Condoms are the only contraceptive device that does double duty in preventing pregnancy and STI transmission. But will men’s birth-control options expand?
Many have wondered why there is not a male equivalent to the Pill. The short answer to this question is that the release of one egg is easier to prevent than the flow of millions of sperm. The longer answer to that question includes a litany of failures in the search for such technology. Currently, however, there are some interesting developments in male birth control.
The condom, of course, is the only birth-control method to do double duty in reducing risk for both pregnancy and STI transmission, but many heterosexually active males would like more options than the tried-and-true rubber, and their female partners, despite having expanded contraceptive options – including the Pill, the patch, and the IUD – might prefer for the men in their lives to help shoulder the birth-control burden.
One method under investigation is ultrasound, a technology that has been around for quite some time. Though scientists have been aware of its contraceptive potential since at least the 1970s, most studies have been conducted on nonhuman animals (though human trials could be on the horizon). Ultrasound involves the application of high-frequency sound waves to animal tissue, which can absorb the sound waves’ energy as heat. The possibility for ultrasound’s use for contraception operates on the idea that briefly heating the testes, which in mammals are normally kept a few degrees below core body temperature, can halt sperm production, leading to temporary infertility for about six months. Additionally, ultrasound could affect cells’ absorption rates of ions, which itself could create an environment unfavorable to spermatogenesis. Its extremely localized effects on animal tissues make ultrasound an attractive candidate for research.
One small study conducted on five dogs applied ultrasound to the canine testicles three times over a period of a few days. The researchers compared sperm count before the procedure to two weeks after the procedure. After the ultrasound treatments none of the canine sperm samples contained sperm. Side effects included tender testicles that had been reduced in volume. Continue reading
Posted in Birth Control
Tagged acrosome, baking soda, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, birth control, clinical trial, clinical trials, condoms, contraception, contraceptive devices, copolymer, dimethyl sulfoxide, DMSO, ductus deferens, Katharine McCormick, Margaret Sanger, ovum, Parsemus, polymer, Reversible Inhibition of Sperm under Guidance, RISUG, scrotum, SMA, sodium bicarbonate, sperm, sperm count, spermatogenesis, styrene maleic anhydride, Sujoy Guha, testes, testicles, the Pill, ultrasound, urethra, vas deferens, Vasalgel, vasectomy
“When the marvel of the spring came to the desert, you saw the cactus and the flowering, saw the brown floor change to delicate pale yellow, stood in awe of nature daring to live without water. You were reminded of the futility of wearing out your life merely providing food and raiment. Like the challenge of death, which so many of the people there were gallantly facing, the desert itself was a challenge.” – Margaret Sanger on Tucson, in her autobiography
Margaret Sanger in 1959, with friend Grace Sternberg, returning to the United States after a trip to New Delhi, Sanger's final overseas trip.
Margaret Sanger moved to Tucson in the 1930s and soon thereafter decided to live here full time, believing that the warm climate was conducive to good health. During Sanger’s years in Tucson, she latched onto any health fad or other technique she thought might improve her health. She exercised and experimented with various diets, including fasting on juice; eating a combination of yogurt, wheat germ, and honey; taking vitamin E supplements; and eating papayas (which she had shipped from Hawaii) for their alleged “restorative substances.”
In 1949, however, Sanger suffered a heart attack, and her son Stuart, a doctor, injected her with Demerol, a recently introduced painkiller not considered addictive at the time. The next year she had a second heart attack, resulting in another long convalescence at the hospital. Her addiction to Demerol intensified; she got Stuart to write prescriptions for her, and would sometimes falsely claim that bottles of the drug had fallen and shattered, which would require further prescriptions to be written. If a nurse refused her demand for Demerol, Sanger would inject it herself. Her son tried to wean her from the drug by collecting empty bottles and filling them with a diluted concentration of the drug, slowly increasing the proportion of water to Demerol until the solution was pure water. This was effective for a while, but eventually Sanger realized she had been duped and endeavored to get her hands back on the drug. She went through other doctors, firing them when they would decrease her dosage, and eventually took to self-administering injections of pure water every 30 minutes. Her addiction, it seemed, was both to the drug itself and the psychological comforts of the injection. Continue reading
Posted in History
Tagged addiction, Alan Guttmacher, arteriosclerosis, Demerol, heart attack, John Rock, Margaret Sanger, nursing home, Pima County, senility, St. George's Church, Stuart Sanger, Tucson
Editors’ note: Happy Women’s History Month! We’re excited to celebrate with you by continuing our series on the life of Margaret Sanger.
Margaret Sanger, and a few guests, at her home in the Tucson Foothills, circa 1941.
If you’ve lived in Tucson, it’s likely that you’ve passed by one of Margaret Sanger’s erstwhile residences. In the 1930s she lived in Tucson’s Foothills and by the next decade she lived on Elm Street, close to the Arizona Inn and the university. About 10 years later, she helped to design a new house in the Catalina Vista neighborhood.
In one of Sanger’s autobiographies, she tells of the pull Tucson exerted on her:
“[I]n the winter, remembering Arizona from the time I had been there with Stuart, [I] went out again in response to the summons of the desert. My husband and I found a house near Tucson of adobe, trimmed in blue.”
This adobe house was in the Foothills of Tucson, purchased in April 1933. Sanger and her husband, J. Noah, had a famously contentious relationship and maintained separate apartments within their home; Sanger’s was on the ground floor in the front area of the house.
Though enchanted by the desert’s beauty, Sanger and her family also pinned their hopes on the climate’s supposed restorative powers. Sanger’s son Stuart had already moved to Tucson, and was hopeful that the climate would help to heal an enduring ear infection. Sanger’s husband hoped it would alleviate his arthritis (and was also drawn by Arizona’s lack of income tax at the time). For her part, Sanger sought relief from her bronchitis, and also believed the climate would put her at a decreased risk for tuberculosis. Continue reading
Posted in History
Tagged architecture, Arizona Inn, Arthur Brown, Catalina Mountains, Catalina Vista neighborhood, Elm Street, Frank Lloyd Wright, Grant Sanger, J. Noah Slee, Margaret Sanger, Pima County Republican Women's Club, Santa Catalina Mountains, Stuart Sanger, Tucson, Tucson Arts Festival, Tucson Medical Center, Woman's Republican Club of Pima County
Throughout her quasi-retirement in Tucson, Margaret Sanger was still committed to the cause that propelled her into the national spotlight in the first place. In Tucson, she arranged to debate the Bishop of Arizona to address “the morality of birth control” – they spoke on different nights, however, since neither wanted to be on stage with the other.
William Mathews, editor of the Arizona Star, wrote: “Who do these women think they are to take on the Bishop of Arizona?” Apparently it was still the prevailing sentiment that a woman’s place was in the home, and despite all the socializing and entertaining Sanger did in her own life, she wasn’t shy about returning to the public sphere.
She wasn’t shy about defying authority either. One example of this facet of her personality was related by one of her biographers. Attempting to cross into the United States from Nogales, Mexico, the border inspector informed Sanger that she could not enter the country without having the required vaccination. Thinking this requirement unnecessary, she tried to refuse, but the inspector was insistent. She relented, and he administered the injection, but immediately after crossing the border, in full sight of the inspector, she sucked the vaccine from the injection site, grinning at him mischievously. Continue reading
Posted in History
Tagged Alexander Fleming, Arizona Star, birth control, Birth Control Federation of America, Bishop of Arizona, customs, Grant Sanger, heart attack, India, Jawaharlal Nehru, Margaret Sanger, Mexico, New Delhi, Nogales, Pandit Nehru, Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Prime Minister Nehru, Sir Alexander Fleming, Tucson, Tucson Medical Center, vaccination, vaccine
Photo credit: Arizona Historical Society
“The first thing when you opened your eyes, before actual dawn, you beheld the gold and purple and then the entire sky break into color. In the evening the sunsets were reflected on the mountains in pink-lavender shades; sometimes the glow sprayed from the bottom upward, like the footlights of a theater, until the tips were aflame. Sunset vanished as quickly as the sunrise, never lingering long.”
– Margaret Sanger on Tucson, in her autobiography
Margaret Sanger’s more laid-back years in Tucson saw her with the free time to try out new things, such as cooking and painting. Another role in which Sanger indulged was as the hostess of some of Tucson’s most lavish parties. This was partly an attempt to reclaim some of her former celebrity – she missed the attention and sought once again to be in the spotlight, if only locally. Continue reading
Posted in History
Tagged Adolf Hitler, birth control, Bronx cheer, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Japan, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Margaret Sanger, parties, party, prank phone call, Tucson
At least since the days of the Wild West, Tucson has seen some of history’s most infamous characters. These days, the city celebrates this past with events such as Dillinger Days, which commemorates John Dillinger’s apprehension and arrest in downtown Tucson. Some controversial figures didn’t merely pass through town but instead made Tucson their home, including the namesake of the Margaret Sanger Health Center and inductee into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame: Margaret Sanger.
In the 1930s, when Sanger first came to Tucson, the town was known for its healthful climate – a reputation that drew Sanger here early in the decade when her son, Stuart, was suffering from an ear infection. “Arizona was so unlike any place I had been before; you either had to be enthralled by it or hate and dread it,” Sanger wrote in her autobiography. “But I knew there was a delight in the cool nights and the translucent, sunny days with a lovely tang in the air.” The following spring, her son in better health, “we packed our bags once more in the little car and drove away, looking back regretfully at the indescribable Catalinas, on which light and clouds played in never-ending change of pattern.”
This first stay left a favorable impression in Sanger’s mind, and in 1935 she returned with Stuart, who this time was suffering from an eye infection. His doctor wanted to operate but Sanger thought he could be cured by a fasting regimen, in which she joined him. The alternative treatment wasn’t successful – but during this time Sanger decided she liked Tucson so much that she and her husband, J. Noah Slee, thought about making it their permanent home. Continue reading
Posted in History
Tagged Arizona Inn, birth control, birth control pill, Catalina Mountains, Clinica Para Las Madres, Hermosillo, J. Noah Slee, Margaret Sanger, Margaret Sanger Slee, Mexico, Nogales, Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, population growth, Stuart Sanger, the Pill, Tucson, Tucson Medical Center, Tucson Mother's Health Clinic, Tucson Watercolor Guild, watercolor
September 14 marks the birthday of Margaret Sanger, founder of the modern birth control movement. Born Margaret Higgins in 1879 in Corning, New York, Sanger would become a trailblazer and set the stage for women to control their reproductive destiny.
Margaret was the sixth of eleven children. She watched her mother struggle with the challenges of childcare and frequent pregnancies, and it made a permanent mark on Margaret’s mind. Feminist author Gloria Feldt tells us:
Margaret’s earliest childhood memories were of crying beside her mother’s bed after a nearly fatal childbirth. Anne Higgins, a devout, traditional Catholic, did die at age 50, worn out from frequent pregnancies and births.
Margaret’s father was a freethinker, a stonemason, a charmer who loved to drink and spin a tale but was less than a dependable provider. Margaret knew poverty; she identified with the struggles of women. Her experiences formed her sensibilities about the moral rightness of birth control. And she had that freethinker streak that allowed her to break boundaries.
Part of the Higgins’ family’s problems stemmed from the fact that Michael Higgins was very vocal in his opposition to the Catholic church. Corning was a predominantly Catholic community, and Higgins’ opinions made it hard for him to secure commissions as a stonemason. It also made the Higgins children the subject of ridicule amongst their peers. This may have been a blessing in disguise, however, because it helped the Higgins children rely on each other for companionship. And when Margaret was ready to launch the birth control movement many years later, her sister would join the fray. Continue reading
Hormonal birth control has an incredible history that stretches back almost a century, when Margaret Sanger wrote of her dream of a “magic pill” in 1912. In the ensuing decades, scientists were busy piecing together the complex system of the body’s “chemical messengers,” hormones, and when they learned how to synthesize them in the ’40s, Sanger’s dream was but a few steps away from being fulfilled. Three engaging accounts of the Pill’s development – The Pill: A Biography of the Drug That Changed the World by Bernard Asbell (1995), America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation by Elaine Tyler May (2010), and Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects, and the Making of the Pill by Gabriela Soto Laveaga (2009) – contain some overlap, while offering different perspectives.
Each author tells the inspiring story of Russell Marker, the chemist who first finagled progesterone from a wild-growing Mexican yam. Despite a near lack of support from pharmaceutical companies and the scientific community, he traveled to rural Mexico on a hunch – and ended up co-founding a laboratory that became the world’s top hormone supplier for the next few decades. Before Marker formulated a way to synthesize hormones in abundance, they were derived from slaughterhouse byproducts and were prohibitively expensive. Marker’s experiments enabled further medical research in hormones, and progesterone was soon used not only in oral contraceptives, but as a precursor for other medications such as cortisone.
While Carl Djerassi is often credited as the “father of the Pill,” both Asbell and May tip their hats to Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick, the Pill’s “mothers.” These two women also have fascinating biographies. As a nurse in the early twentieth century, Sanger was acquainted with the horrors that arose when women did not have control over their fertility. Many of her patients became infected or even died as the result of illegal or self-induced abortions, which motivated Sanger to become an activist for contraception’s legalization – an avocation that saw her illegally smuggling diaphragms into the country and serving time in jail after opening a family-planning clinic in Brooklyn. Continue reading
Posted in Birth Control, Book Reviews
Tagged Bernard Absell, book review, Carl Djerassi, clinical trials, contraceptives, Elaine Tyler May, Gabriela Soto Laveaga, Gregory Pincus, hormonal birth control, hormones, John Rock, Katharine McCormick, Luis Miramontes, Margaret Sanger, Mexico, norethindrone, oral contraceptives, progesterone, Russell Marker, the Pill, yam