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Unlikely Natural Source May Lead to First Birth Control Pill for Men

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John Edwards and Arnold Schwarzenegger suffer from a disease that affects untold thousands of powerful American men. Untreated, the prognosis is dire: public humiliation, loss of marriage, and permanent exile from public life.

There's a name for this malady: being able to get ladies pregnant. And now, there might be a cure.

The unlikely source? Ganarusa, a leaf Indonesians have used for centuries as an herbal anxiety tonic. They've long known it has a side effect of making men less fertile. Now, researchers are testing an extract for use as an over-the-counter contraceptive. As PBS reports, early results indicate it could be the first reliable, easy-to-make birth control pill for men.

The typical objection to a male pill is that men wouldn't bother, and desperate men would lie about it: “A condom? No need, babe, I'm on the male pill.”

Indeed, sexual politics are such that women, as a rule, bear nearly all the burden of pregnancy. So while women have plenty of incentive to take their pills religiously if they're having sex, men -- who will never have to grow another human in their bodies, expel it from a small cavity, and put their careers on hold to care for it -- may have baser priorities on the brain where sex is concerned.

The incentives change, though, for our rich and famous adulterers. With so much at stake, men like Edwards and Schwarzenegger should jump at the chance to cripple their swimmers. And, more to the point, to take the onus for contraception onto themselves rather than leaving it up to women.

Consider the pro athlete, American society's most notorious class of womanizer. His massive (and publicly known) salary helps to reel in groupies for casual sex, but it also makes him a target for women who might actively seek 18 years of generous child-support checks. Fear of a scheming woman sabotaging a prophylactic with the prick of a pin is why “BYOC” – bring your own condom – is a mantra for philandering sports stars.

It would take years of testing to bring gandarusa to US pharmacies, and the drug industry has a testosterone-based treatment in the works that it surely would prefer to sell. Still, when word gets out, prominent cheaters probably will find ways to get their hands on gandarusa. And it has advantages that Big Pharma may not be able to replicate.

For one thing, messing with one's hormones can cause weight gain, mood changes and other nasty side effects, as women who've used the pill can attest. Not so with the Indonesian solution. “Doctors are especially excited because gandarusa doesn't alter male hormones but rather changes the chemistry on the tip of each individual spermatozoon, making them unable to pierce the outer wall of a female egg, or oocyte,” Suarez notes.

So, even the birth control pill might soon be easier on men than it is on women. If you've ever doubted that being male comes with a bevy of privileges, think about that one.
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