Dear Matt: What’s happening with the birth-control pill for men? I keep hearing about it every once in a while, but then nothing happens. Why is it so difficult to make one? It didn’t take this long to make the Pill for women. Is it maybe that all the scientists are men, and they don’t really want something like this on the market? They just figure they’ll leave the responsibility on women? — Wondering Woman, via email
There’s a whole Dumpster full of reasons why. And you can throw out that one about male scientists’ contraception plot. There have been enough surveys around the world to prove that if somebody sells them, men will buy them. Actually, a university in Israel swears it has finally developed a contraceptive pill for men, but we’ve heard that one before, so it remains to be proved.
Maybe the simplest way of explaining why women have a pill and men don’t is that women produce one egg a month and men produce 100 million sperm a day. The fertile window for women is small; men, on the other hand, are Johnny Appleseeds. Men are also slightly more complicated, hormonally. One of the first breakthroughs, about ten years ago, was the discovery of a hormone that stopped sperm production completely. Too bad one major side effect was loss of sex drive. Though maybe that’s also a good anti-kid method, too. Anyway, an injection of testosterone was added to the mix to bring back the manliness. This is one of the roads to contra-man-ception science is taking. Though it’s unlikely it can be put in pill form, since the stomach digests testosterone and breaks it down to uselessness. Back to the drawing board.
Other science guys who don’t like that road are fiddling with proteins in sperm that are necessary to fertilize an egg. Then there’s the crowd messing with sperm tails, getting them to stop wiggling. A third bunch figures they can make puny sperm too weak to break into an egg to fertilize it.
When you look at the big picture, it’s much more risky for a woman to conceive, so nature has provided an “off” switch for ovulation that kicks in when conditions aren’t right. F’rinstance, no woman wants to get pregnant once she’s already pregnant. So, biochemically, it’s relatively easy for a drug to mimic the ovulation “off” switch. There are no such pressures on men. No reason to stop sperm production just because a man’s impregnated someone. I mean, where would the rapper community be if that were the situation? So, nature didn’t worry too much about sperm “off” switches that a simple pill can mimic. It’s much more complicated to interrupt the sperm cycle artificially.
We called all the elves to a meeting in the atrium at 4:00 last Monday to discuss the man-pill situation. About half of them actually showed up. The rest forgot. Half of the group that showed up was either an hour early or an hour late or went first to the laundry room or something. And once they arrived, none of them could remember why they were there. I can’t say that makes a good case for a daily pill for men.
Dear Matt: I won’t join a circus to find out, so this task goes to you, Matt; you find the answer to nearly anything we experience in day-to-day life. What propels the human cannonballs? I don’t believe it is a powerful explosive charge. That’s for effects. Not a spring, maybe a giant and long bungee, compressed air, steam (catapult), or hydraulics. These are my likely guesses. I can hardly wait to find out — Curious G.G. on P.L.
Well, how did you know that Grandma comes from a long line of circus folk? We have these cute pictures of Grandma practicing riding a bicycle across a high wire...having a little trouble with her training wheels, though. As a teenager, she was swept off her feet by a trapeze artist but gave up the career when he accidentally dropped her into the elephant pen. But she still gets teary when she sees a big top. And she can tell you without a doubt that no gunpowder is involved in the human-cannonball trick, except as special effects. The living projectile hops into a cylinder that slides down inside the barrel of the cannon. At the base of the cannon is a container of compressed air set at about 150 psi. The release of the air shoots the cylinder down the barrel. It stops before it’s ejected, but of course the human bean keeps going. It might seem like the tricky part is over, but more human projectiles are injured or killed by missing the landing net than by any problems from the concussion. It’s a tricky business. The first human cannonball was a woman in a circus in England, and she used a contraption made of springs and wires.