Men: smart enough to invent indoor plumbing, yet too moronic to be trusted with swallowing a tiny pill every day to prevent pregnancy in their partners. At least, that’s still the prevailing point of view on the issue in light a new study that found a new version of the male pill to be safe and effective. Now, if we could just trust these mouth-breathers to inhale through their noses for long enough to remember to eat the damn thing.
Still, good news: A month-long trial funded by the National Institutes for Health seems to have resolved previous issues the male pill faced, Newsweek has reported. It works similarly to female birth control pills, only it uses dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU) to suppress sperm production. Challenges to previous iterations of the pill included bad side effects like liver damage and figuring out a way to keep it in the body long enough to work. Adding a long-chain fatty acid has solved the issue of the pill metabolizing too fast to be effective and side effects like acne, weight gain and lowered libido — crap women have been putting up with for years on the pill — were found to be minimal this time around.
But what’s the point of such breakthroughs if no one thinks men can be counted on to pull this thing off? “Male pill’s closer — but will men remember to take it?” asks a South African health site, citing a study that half of women surveyed said they wouldn’t rely on their male partners to remember to take it. Then there are the general opinions of the public:
The thinking here is obvious. Men, we all collectively believe, are nimrods who can’t remember anything, like how to flush a toilet or your first name. And we are not wrong. Men do forget more stuff than women. One study found that while all adults forget about three facts, events, or chores per day, women still remember more than men on average, even though they have more things to remember (presumably because they typically have jobs while also running entire households.) Another study a few years later also found that men are more forgetful, regardless of age. Being 30 or 60 had no bearing on the fact that dudes weren’t good at just answering nine little questions about their own lives, ostensibly their favorite subject. Then another study found that it’s not just remembering their own history that men are bad at, it’s also remembering to do stuff: Women outperform men in tests of memory when it’s about following through on small tasks.
But this isn’t necessarily anything more than culture. Women tend to remember more, researchers think, because they do more remembering in caregiving and household management, which means their ability to “remember to remember” is exactly the sort of well-honed machine you’d think it is after keeping track of bills, lunches, birthdays and doctors appointments. Other research suggests that women’s memory leg up may be rooted in childhood training, too. Parents talk to girls differently than boys in ways that ask more questions of them, including their ability to describe an event, which also fosters better memory.
But one of the study’s co-authors told the Daily Mail that applying this sort of thinking to birth control is pretty outdated. “It is quite old-fashioned to think that men would forget to take a pill and survey data shows that men want to take responsibility for contraception in couples,” Arthi Thirumalai said.
This is a crucial point. Even if men are bad at remembering most shit, what reason do we have to think that they wouldn’t be invested in helping prevent unwanted pregnancy? If anything, it fits neatly with another stereotype we cherish about dudes: Men are allegedly terrified of making babies and will literally do anything to avoid commitment and responsibility, including say, setting a timer on their phone to remember something as simple as a daily pill.
Aren’t men also allegedly terrified of women “forgetting” to take the pill and “trapping” them into unwanted fatherhood, thus making it even more likely they would be happy to not leave the pregnancy prevention to chance?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a cynical stereotype as much as the next person, but we should pick which one to go with here: Are men complete morons who can’t be trusted to swallow a tiny pill every day or are they complete assholes who would be ecstatic to swallow a tiny pill every day because they hate commitment?
Writing at Thrillist a few years ago after another promise of a male pill circulated, Will Fulton imagines a world where he and his girlfriend can actually share the responsibility of contraception, possibly even trading off annually on whose job it will be to cover that round of protection. In his mind, it’s just leveling the playing field, and also potentially giving her a break from all the side effects of the female birth control pill.
It’s worth noting that women forget to take the pill all the time. In one study, women missed taking the pill on average about 5 times a month (but self-reported that they’d only missed one pill a month.) For what it’s worth, no one in the study got pregnant in spite of this, and none of them wanted to, either.
But hey, maybe taken together, a man and woman mostly taking a pill every day can eliminate all the accidents. Or maybe we can see for once and for all if men can rise to this occasion.
But it’s not like there is any rush. This pill still needs a minimum of three months of testing to get real measurements on how effective it is at lowering sperm counts to zero, so we’re not that close to seeing if men can get this right. We’ve been saying the male pill is five years away from developing this right for about 50 years, so at this rate, we may never find out.