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UI researchers take step toward birth-control equality

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 09, 2009 7:30 AM

The prospect of a male birth-control pill has been making international headlines. That is likely years away, but a study recently published by UI researchers is a promising step toward developing a new male contraceptive. We applaud those researchers and lend our appreciation to any effort that can help make birth control more accessible and user-friendly.

The researchers — headed by Richard Smith, Michael Hildebrand, and Matthew Avenarius — identified a defective gene called CATSPER1. The gene causes male infertility and could potentially be used to develop a male contraceptive.

The researchers have stressed that their findings are preliminary: “There is still a lot of work to be done,” Hildebrand told the *DI* last week. Further research must be carried out on the CATSPER1 gene’s function, and researchers are a long way out from developing a drug which targets the gene. Nevertheless, this is an exciting discovery.

In the way of birth-control methods, more is better. Certainly, there is no single contraceptive treatment or device which can appeal to everyone. Many men avoid condoms, deeming the flimsy sheaths an impractical form of birth control. A contraceptive medication, on the other hand, would negate many excuses men have for refraining from contraceptive use. “The Pill” for men, wouldn’t need to be carried around and wouldn’t get in the way of “the moment.” It wouldn’t reduce sensitivity, and it wouldn’t be messy.

But most importantly, the responsibility of birth control should never be placed entirely on one partner. Too many males remove themselves from the responsibility, insisting that it’s a woman’s job to take birth control. A male counterpart to the female pill would be a step in the right direction for repairing the social precept that preventing pregnancy is a feminine duty. Additionally, taking charge of birth control offers men security; they’ll no longer have to rely on others to ensure they’re having safer sex. After all, should any one person be individually entrusted with such a grave responsibility?

This idea will certainly be met with criticism and resistance from ardent abortion opponents. But birth control *is* pro-life. Avoiding pregnancy is unarguably the first step toward avoiding abortion. While opponents make the argument that sex is meaningless if it’s not performed in hopes of procreation, it’s only reasonable to concede that wasted sperm is preferable to a terminated pregnancy. To combat birth-control opposition, proponents must be persistent in efforts to make birth control more accessible. The more common and versatile birth control is, the more likely the next generation of conservatives is to be open to the idea of its use.

Of course questions still remain, not the least of which is whether it’s wise to toy with genes that have the ability to cease reproductive ability. But we are confident these UI researchers as well as the scientific community at large will take the proper precautions to ensure that any male birth-control method is safe for long-term use.

Still, we can’t help but wonder whether or not men will be cozy to the idea of their own “Pill.”
One UI sophomore told the *DI* this week he didn’t know how popular the method would be because taking a pill is considered among many to be a “girl thing to do.”

In order to break down the stigma surrounding birth control as a feminine responsibility, forward-thinking men must voice their support for the idea of men taking an equal share of the responsibility of birth control.

So, men, man up.


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