No swimming allowed: Sperm and male contraception

Have you ever had someone’s eyes glaze over while you’re talking to them? Have you ever had that happen 30 times in a row? I did this past weekend at a pool party, and it’s a tough spot to come back from.

I like to think I’ve adapted my “So, what do you do?” spiel to be concise and provide details, but not too many; especially since I work in a niche field like reproductive biology, and people really don’t want to hear how comfortable you are talking about sperm.

My elevator pitch was recently tested after members of my lab and I published a paper in Science. One of the main research foci of the Matzuk Lab is developing non-hormonal forms of male contraception.

Most of the non-scientist attendees at this recent pool party kept asking questions: “Why has it taken so long?,” “Why isn’t it hormonal?;” “What are the side effects?,” and, my favorite, “Can I be a test subject?”

As I began to answer their questions, I found that this subject is often overlooked or underexplored in secondary education and beyond.

For more than 60 years, contraceptive technologies have been principally designed for female use. The rationale for female-based contraception was simply that it can be easier to stop an assassin than an army. Females ovulate once a month approximately. Men produce millions of sperm during each ejaculation. It can be simpler to disrupt the action of one egg compared to millions of sperm, which in part is why the contraceptive focus has been on female anatomy and reproduction.

Barrier methods, such as condoms, have been around for more than 100 years. Minor breakthroughs in male contraceptive options have been achieved, but this is a growing field; new research is coming out that increases the odds of more contraceptive options for men hitting the market.

Access to available contraceptives can help improve socioeconomic status and reproductive rights and, most importantly, can also prevent unwanted / unintended pregnancies. Bringing more awareness and starting conversations about fertility and contraceptive options creates a dialogue and can help individuals understand what options are available to them. Contraceptive options for more people is positive.

Our work helps shine new perspectives on what targets are suitable for male contraception development and can help people understand the challenges and breakthroughs scientists are working on every day.

Male contraceptive development has a critical impact on policy because it can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations. These SDGs are designed to be a guide to help develop a better future for all people and the earth.

The Male Contraceptive Initiative has outlined how having access to male contraception would help promote gender equality by enabling the contraceptive burden to be shared between men and women. This, in turn, could also lead to a reduction in the number of unintended pregnancies, which disproportionately impacts women both physically and financially.

By Courtney Sutton, postdoctoral associate in the Laboratory of Dr. Martin M. Matzuk, Department of Pathology and Immunology, Center of Drug Discovery at Baylor College of Medicine





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