The Observer and the Male Pill

What is it with Sunday newspapers and contraception?

First we had the Mail on Sunday’s utterly irresponsible piece of front page scaremongering around the risks associated with third generation oral contraceptives, now we have Tim Lewis’s article on the problems of developing a ‘male pill’ in The Observer which contains this gloriously idiotic piece of gross understatement:

Amobi heard this story and he also discovered research from the early 1980s that there was another, very different drug with a similar side-effect: phenoxybenzamine, a medication for high-blood pressure. For some reason, these two treatments disrupted the so-called Mexican wave that a man experiences during sex to produce a “dry orgasm”. All Amobi and his team had to do was to find other compounds that have the same effect on ejaculation without side-effects of their own (thioridazine caused drowsiness and phenoxybenzamine could lead to dizziness) and without affecting other muscles in the body. In news reports at the time, he suggested that this might take them five years.


Thoiridazine, which was widely used for a time in the treatment of schizophrenia has been withdrawn in many, including the UK and Australia due to concerns about cardiotoxicity and retinopathy at high doses, problems which are at least partially reflected only a couple of paragraphs earlier in the same article:

Dr Amobi’s research was also at a very early stage – it had yet to be tested on animals even – but once more there was an attractive theoretical purity behind his idea. It derived from research published in 1968 about thioridazine, a drug used to treat schizophrenia. Thioridazine had fallen out of favour as a mental-health treatment – it could cause an irregular heartbeat that led to sudden death and was withdrawn from use in the UK in 2005 – but it did have a surprising side-effect: male patients who took it typically experienced their orgasms without any ejaculate.

So it doesn’t just cause ‘drowsiness’ but also sudden heart failure and persistent/acute damage to the retina similar to that caused by diabetes mellitus and chronic arterial hypertension which may lead to a severe loss of vision or blindness if the macula becomes affected.


As for phenoxybenzamine, a quick check on the side effects there indicates that what Lewis refers to as ‘dizziness’ is, in fact, reflex tachycardia; the drug lowers blood pressure and blood flow which, if it drops too far, will result in a sudden increase in heart rate above normal. As side effects go, that’s one that seems far from ideal for a male oral contraceptive unless you think there’s something romantic about the possibility of dying on the job.

Male chauvinism may indeed be holding back research into a viable male oral contraceptive but that doesn’t warrant downplaying the problems with previous candidate drugs for the sake of boosting your argument’s plausibility. All you need do is explain that just because there are issues with these drugs, it doesn’t automatically follow that future candidates will exhibit the same problems.

Resorting to bullshit in order to downplay such issues is, however, only likely to harden any unhelpful, chauvinistic attitudes surrounding the development of a male ‘pill’; men, after all, are no different to women in their dislike of being misled.


On this that does occur to me here is that men simply being unable to imagine a ‘semen-free orgasm’ is a major obstacle as Lewis suggests here:

Numerous explanations can be found for the failure of Amobi’s “clean-sheets pill” to get off the ground, but probably the most devastating blow is studies hinting that around half of men simply could not imagine a semen-free orgasm. There is speculation over whether this is tied to the increased popularity of internet porn or with ejaculation being inextricably linked to a man’s sense of masculinity, but whatever the reason, it has been damning for further investment.

I think much more likely that a lot of men may feel that a ‘dry orgasm’ sounds like it could be a bit painful, which is a hump that any prospective male contraceptive will need to get over to be taken seriously.

As to ‘speculation over whether this is tied to the increased popularity of internet porn’, that would be bollocks.

One thought on “The Observer and the Male Pill

  1. I’d have thought the main problem would be women trusting men to (a) tell the truth about whether or not they were taking it and/or (b) men forgetting to take it.

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