Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Stay connected with us

Home > Physical Wellness

A Man Needs a Pill: The Race To Find A Male Contraceptive

Update Date: Jun 09, 2017 06:35 PM EDT
Close
Nelson Mandela: First ever TV interview with anti-apartheid leader discovered
human sperm
(Photo : Getty Images)

The first person to put sperm under a microscope was Dutchman (insert Dutch sex joke here) Antony van Leeuwenhoek in the mid 1670's. He helped develop the first compound microscope, discovered bacteria and blood cells and is generally considered to be the person to open up the microscopic world to scientists.

Good scientist that he was, it wasn't long before he was studying his own ejaculate.

Apparently he was actually rather shy about it, and it wasn't until his colleagues encouraged him to study sperm that he finally looked and discovered what must have blown his mind in the 1670s. We take it for granted now, but can you imagine the first glimpse? "Oh my god there are little tadpoles in there!" 

Van Leeuwenhoek called them "animacules." What he had found was sperm.

Once van Leeuwenhoek discovered sperm, he was also nervous about sharing it with the world. He wrote to the Royal Society of London in 1677 and politely reported his findings. He made sure to attach a disclaimer with his research. He had to be careful lest he end up as a head on London Bridge for even daring to study something so salacious at the time.

He wrote to the Royal Society of London;

If your Lordship should consider that these observations may disgust or scandalise the learned, I earnestly beg your Lordship to regard them as private and to publish or destroy them as your Lordship sees fit.

To his relief, the President of the Royal Society of London publishes van Leeuwenhoek's findings in the journal Philisophical Transactions in 1678. Thus began the brand new scientific field of sperm biology.

Once sperm was discovered, two schools of thought formed and their argument persisted for over 200 years. One group, known as the "preformationists," theorized that each sperm contained a complete human being, and that putting sperm inside a woman was sort of like planting a seed in the ground. The soil helped the seed grow, but the seed was the magic part. It had all of the characteristics of the already formed human being living inside of it.

In this analogy women are like dirt.

And how is everyone enjoying the sexism? 

Another group, known as the "epegenesists", believed that both males and females contributed to the formation and growth of a new organism. Not surprisingly the epegenesists were proven correct. And not surprisingly, it took over 200 years to achieve this proof. It wasn't until the mid 19th century scientists started using better microscopes to look at sea urchin eggs which are clear. This study of embryonic development went a long way to disproving preformation. 

So while some study of sperm is going on, and I do mean "some" because this kind of research was still a little touchy to the church.  Almost no research was being done on how sperm react to being inside a female body. Fertility research was slow to take off. Sexism was again playing a part. 

"Part of that is a male bias in biology to think the female is not an important part of the story, and that goes way back in sperm biology to this whole idea of preformation," says Syracuse University biologist Scott Pitnick. 

On the technical side, it is hard to observe sperm inside a woman. It is hard to get a camera in there. Pitnik was able to dye fruit fly sperm and observe them in real time as they move through the female (fruit fly) reproductive system.

Without knowing enough about the female reproductive track, scientists were not able to make a lot of headway in fertility science and that is one area of science that is still a mystery to much of the community. 

"In many cases, it is a compatibility difference between a specific male and female, and they don't know the underlying mechanism," Pitkin says. "Understanding sperm-female interactions can certainly shed light on understanding new explanations for infertility, and possibly new solutions for it."

Sperm research can also shed light on the question of a male contraceptive that still eludes modern science. 

A private group called the Male Contraceptive Initiative has launched a contest where they will fund one innovative contraceptive research project. Gunda Georg at The University of Minnesota has made it through the first round for her research in infertility-associated genes in mice that could lead to a development of a male birth control pill. 

Her research is concentrated on dosage. 

"if a man stops taking the pill, he has to completely return to normal," Georg says.

So far, researchers have tried gels and pills have not been able to find anything that is reliable and effective. But have no fear, the development of the male contraceptive is driven by the want for men to have sex. Believe me, the funding will appear. The "guy pill" will get done.   

 

 

 

Get the Most Popular Stories in a Weekly Newsletter
© 2017 Counsel & Heal All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Join the Conversation