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A birth control pill for men?

In 1963, another study tested a male contraceptive on 39 inmates at the same prison.  Here, the compound halted sperm production without affecting libido.  But when a man who took the pill was released from prison and went out drinking, he became violently ill and had to be hospitalized.  Although it was possible for men taking the pill to refrain from alcohol in order to avoid serious health risks, the potentially dangerous combination of alcohol and hormones put an end to this birth control alternative.

Additional small-scale tests continued through the 1970s in the United States and Europe.  Male prisoners were commonly used in these trials – a standard practice that continued well into the 1980s.  All of these studies showed promising results but problematic side effects remained. [vii] Moreover, the advantages of using institutionalized men who could be frequently monitored were diminished by the fact that these subjects were not having sex with women.  The controlled experiments, therefore, did not demonstrate how a particular compound might work in a typical heterosexual relationship.

The problem of overpopulation motivated and legitimized research for a male pill, as it had for the female pill. As one scientist warned, “Because of the immensity and seriousness of human population growth every avenue should continue to be explored and we should be unwise to neglect the male approach.”[viii] In the developing world, especially in overcrowded China and India, governments pushed for an effective male contraceptive.  In the 1960s, Premier Chou En-Lai of China, and India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, called for new technologies.  In 1961, Gandhi tried to pass a law for large-scale forced sterilization on men.  The proposal generated such protest it resulted in the fall of her cabinet.  Gandhi then turned to promoting new methods of birth control: “Family planning programs are awaiting a big breakthrough; without a safe, preferably oral drug which women and men can take, no amount of government commitment and political determination will avail.”[ix]