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Why isn't birth control getting better?
It has been half a century since the advent of the birth-control pill, but side effects are still too common and alternatives all too few, say commentators
Newer birth control pills have riskier side effects than their predecessors, according to new research.
Newer birth control pills have riskier side effects than their predecessors, according to new research.
CC BY: brains the head
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ast year, the birth-control pill celebrated its 50th anniversary, and while much has changed in the world since the pill's early days, one thing remains a constant: side effects. In fact, newer "third generation" birth-control pills might actually be riskier than their older counterparts, with new research concluding they're three times more likely to cause dangerous, possibly fatal blood clots. The news has commentators wondering why improved birth-control options haven't hit the market in recent decades. Why isn't birth control getting better?

Big Pharma doesn't care about the female market: American women need better birth control — 20 percent of us are unhappy with the method we're using, says Ann Friedman at GOOD. "Are pharmaceutical companies so busy inventing illnesses and wooing doctors that they can't bother to invest in R&D for a product for which 99 percent of American women are potential consumers — not to mention the rest of the world?" Apparently, the answer is yes, drug makers can make more money elsewhere, so women are out of luck. 
"Why isn't birth control getting better?"

The problem is more complicated than that: Don't be so quick to vilify the pharmaceutical industry, says Megan McArdle in The Atlantic. "There aren't unlimited ways of tinkering with the human body," especially when it comes to fertility and hormones. And developing new drugs and getting FDA approval is incredibly complicated. And lifestyle drugs — face it, preventing pregnancy is not like fighting a fatal disease — are especially risky, as the women taking them are typically young and healthy, so if something goes wrong, "horrified juries will deliver large awards."
"Why don't we have better birth control?"

Real progress should involve men: Maybe the answer is taking "the brunt of the burden of long-term birth control" off women, says Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo. Indian scientists are developing a "super promising" means of inhibiting sperm by inserting a tiny electrically charged polymer into a man's testicles, an easily reversed and less-invasive alternative to the "snip-snip" of a vasectomy. While it has far to go before becoming available, it's a "radically simple and brilliant" idea.
"An ingenious new sperm-crippling birth control for dudes"

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