Researchers at the University of Washington may now be only five years away from engineering the Holy Grail of birth control research: a male contraceptive pill. Once developed, the pill could drastically lessen the weight of social responsibility currently placed solely on women and their bodies.
Unfortunately, finding men brave enough to man-up to that responsibility is proving a bit more difficult. So difficult, in fact, that UW researchers have had to resort to paying men $1,300 each just to test the new product.
It's enough to raise the question: If men have to be paid to test the male birth control pill, can they be trusted to purchase it once the product is available in stores? And perhaps more importantly, can men be relied upon to take the pill once it's been bought?
These questions may be loaded with cynical, status-quo stereotypes, but they also raise some legitimate social thought experiments worth considering.
As Seattle Weekly points out, the issue of birth control was much simpler for women. When the pill was developed nearly a half century ago, it empowered women, giving them the ability to make their own reproductive decisions. Women, after all, already carry the sole burden of childbirth. Shouldering the choice of conception is therefore as much a right as it is a responsibility, and the pill was the arbiter of that right.
But for men, the cost-benefit analysis is considerably different. And when pressed, most women are reluctant to cede reproductive power to their male partners anyway: 76 percent of young women believe they are more responsible than men when it comes to birth control, according to a new study.
Is it a gender stereotype, a woman's intuition, or just plain common sense? Regardless, it is women's bodies which are ultimately at risk one way or another when it comes to contraception.
And the UW study isn't the first time researchers have had a difficult time motivating men to help out with the responsbility of birth control. A similar trial done by Chinese researchers had a startling 30 percent of their male subjects fail to complete the study, many of whom simply lost their motivation (a painful monthly shot in the butt didn't help, either).
None of this is to say that there is no market for a male birth control pill; the development of one would certainly be more advantageous than detrimental. Men involved in committed, secure relationships would hopefully harbor the motivation to share in the responsibility of birth control, either out of genuine care or in cases where their partner's body may react poorly to hormonal treatment.
Still, the inevitable breakthrough and development of a male birth control pill may cause less of a shift in gender responsibility than some have proclaimed. When it comes to asking men to fork over that $1,300 instead, the pill may not be quite so easy to swallow.