Asha Dahya speaks with Kevin Shane who is the Marketing & Communications Director for an organization called the Male Contraceptive Initiative. He is leading the organization’s advocacy and outreach efforts. This organization is doing some incredibly brilliant and frankly revolutionary things in the contraceptive space for men, or sperm producers, which is the term Kevin will explain more about in the interview.
Before we get into the episode, think about how birth control completely shifted our lives as women as well as the world economically and revolutionized the power dynamics egg producers have in their families. Of course there is a dark history of racism toward black and Brown women when it comes to early testing of birth control, as well as major pharmaceutical coverups of certain birth control methods becoming dangerous and harmful to women, and this is something we as a country need to acknowledge and rectify with transparency going forward.
Now if we start to see multiple methods of contraceptives hitting the market in the next few years for men, how will our families and society at large be revolutionized once more, and how will it impact our pursuit for gender equality? To answer all these questions and more, we are thrilled to introduce you to Kevin Shane from the Male Contraceptive Initiative.
If you haven’t already, subscribe to our monthly newsletter where you will get each episode of the pod straight to your inbox. Learn more at reprofilm.org or at @reprofilm The rePROFilm Podcast is executive produced by mamafilm. Looking forward to bringing you our next conversation!
Asha Dahya 06:23
Hello my rePROFilm podcast fam! I’m your host Asha Dahya, back with another mid-month episode, where we are celebrating male allyship during the month of November. If you haven’t yet watched our featured short film ‘Sweet Potatoes’, be sure to make time for that because the story of Luis Miramontes, the Mexican scientist who pioneered a product which changed women’s lives and the world forever, I’m talking about birth control of course, is nothing short of inspiring. And speaking of birth control, fast forward to 2022, we are now having conversations about contraceptives not just for women, but also for men!
You may have seen articles over the past few years about new potential birth control methods being tested on men. This is exciting progress to see, and it has made our entire repro film team think more deeply about what male allyship means beyond supporting the right for women to use contraceptives or have access to abortion. Allyship has to go much further than holding up an “I’m with her” sign at a women’s march, right? If you answered “yes”, then you are in for a treat, because my guest in this episode will completely change the way we think about contraceptives, WHO can take them, and why we need to think beyond the gender binary when it comes to reproductive freedom and access to repro healthcare.
Today I’m speaking with Kevin Shane who is the Marketing & Communications Director for an organization called the Male Contraceptive Initiative. He is leading the organization’s advocacy and outreach efforts. I honestly could’ve kept chatting to him all day because I had SO many questions. This organization is doing some incredibly brilliant and frankly revolutionary things in the contraceptive space for men, or sperm producers, which is the term Kevin will explain more about in the interview.
Before we get into the episode, I want you all to think about how birth control completely shifted our lives as women as well as the world economically and revolutionized the power dynamics egg producers have in their families. Of course there is a dark history of racism toward Black and Brown women when it comes to early testing of birth control, as well as major pharmaceutical coverups of certain birth control methods becoming dangerous and harmful to women, and this is something we as a country need to acknowledge and rectify with transparency going forward.
Now if we start to see multiple methods of contraceptives hitting the market in the next few years for men, how will our families and society at large be revolutionized once more, and how will it impact our pursuit for gender equality? To answer all these questions and more, I am thrilled to introduce you to Kevin Shane from the Male Contraceptive Initiative.
Asha Dahya 03:00
Kevin Shane, thank you for joining me today and welcome to the podcast. Very excited to be speaking with you today. And before we dove into everything MCI, can you tell us briefly about your background and how you came to work at MCI and your role there right now?
Kevin Shane 03:15
Sure. Absolutely. And thank you for having me on the podcast. I appreciate it. Yeah, my name is Kevin Shane. I'm the Marketing and Communications Director for Male Contraceptive Initiative, and my background is a bit circuitous. So I started years ago I was in kind of corporate communications marketing and did that for a number of years and then decided I wasn't really feeling that fulfilled. I wanted to look for opportunities to kind of ply my trade in a more socially conscious environment. So I ended up taking some time off and traveled around the world for a bit and spent some time in Cambodia working with some non-profits there, and then eventually migrated to India, where I spent about seven years in a dual role of kind of communications lead and a human centered design practitioner for a firm there that really worked in a bifurcated practice of corporate consultancy as well as in the quote unquote development sector.
I was able to spend a lot of time working in some really challenging contexts to co-design solutions with people around some pressing challenges things like financial inclusion, water and sanitation, education. And towards the end of my time there, I started working more and more in family planning, and the last project I worked on was actually in collaboration with my AH Executive Director at MCI. Heather. Their budget looking at kind of a speculative design exercise, looking at what the far future contraceptive product landscape could look like and the the focus of this kind of research study was really on egg producers or women.
So what we kept hearing while we were doing kind of the field research from people is why are you not focusing on all people? Why are you not thinking about sperm producers as well? And that, you know, embarrassingly, that was kind of the first time in my life where I started really thinking, yeah, wait a minute, why? As a as a heterosexual man, why don't I have more options? So when I came back to the United States and I reconnected with Heather, she had just taken over as the executive director at MCI, and she was looking for someone with my background with a bit of that combination of communications and marketing, but also the human centered design background to really look at and investigate ways that we can improve the the development of novel forms of non hormonal reversal contraception for sperm producers. And, and I've been here for four years, so it's been an amazing adventure. And you know, certainly in line with what I was saying before of trying to focus on something that, you know, is a huge pressing social challenge for me. And what I kind of arrived at was all of the other kind of problems that I was working on were really kind of symptoms of a larger challenge. And that's our lack of reproductive autonomy for people. So the lack of contraceptive products, the lack of educational resources really kind of leads to this profusion of unintended pregnancies in the world. So if you look at a Venn diagram of the social challenges that inability for people to completely have control over their reproductive autonomy and their family planning goals sits right in the middle of it. So it's an incredibly huge challenge, but also an incredible privilege to work on this.
Asha Dahya 06:58
Yeah, I love that you connected it with other issues like economic stability. And, you know, I think that's really important to make those connections with reproductive autonomy. And it really sounds like you eat, pray, loved your way into MCI. Which I love. It's such a great story. But other than a few viral articles recently about previous male birth control experiments being discontinued because of the side effects and, you know, collectively women were like, oh, my goodness, let's bring out the tiny violins. Sorry. Tell us what the actual options are for contraceptives for men right now compared to the plethora of available to women.
Kevin Shane 07:35
Currently, there are literally two methods available for patients. Two. That's it. So we have the condom. A barrier method which has what they call a typical use failure rate of around 13%. So if you are only relying on condoms to avoid an unintended pregnancy, it fails more than. One out of every ten times you're using that so obviously we can improve upon that. Now, I want to say, in defense of condoms, we're not anti kind of we're pro all contraception. I think barrier methods are incredibly important.
The condom is incredibly important for avoiding STIs and STDs, things like that. But, you know, in terms of pure pregnancy prevention, it's less than ideal. And then you have vasectomy, which is intended to be a permanent form of sterilization. So reversing a vasectomy is is an incredibly challenging, complex microsurgery. The success rates are not very high. So the longer you are away from when you got your vasectomy, the lower the odds are of reversing it. But even more importantly than that, even if you are able to successfully reverse of a secondary, that does not guarantee that your fertility will return. So you see the pregnancy rates post vasectomy reversal really varies hugely from 30% up to 90%. So even if you are able to reverse one, it's no guarantee that you're going to be able to facilitate pregnancy.
And those are really the two that we're at right now. And I think to your point, going back to what you said about side effects, one of the challenges that we really have as a field and it's something that I think is very important for the general public to be aware of is how we define risk. And by we I mean the FDA, the regulatory bodies that that oversee the development of new therapeutics. It goes back to the Hippocratic Oath, right? So first, do no harm. The way that we define risk vis a vis a pregnancy is a physical risk.
So by virtue of the reproductive biology of egg producers and sperm producers, sperm producers cannot get pregnant. Therefore, there is no physical risk to a sperm producer's body. In the case of a pregnancy and because of that and although alternatively, if you look at an egg producer. There is the risk of death. It's significant. The physical risks are significant up to and including death. And because of that, the kind of, I guess, appetite for or at least the accommodation for side effects is much higher for people that face a physical risk. So what we have been doing, one of the things MCI has been doing is trying to advocate for a redefining of this risk profile to be a shared risk. So it's not fair to say to anyone to say that, oh, a sperm producer has no physical risk, therefore we can't provide contraception because that is doing harm to an otherwise healthy system. And so that's something that as we work on developing more and more of these methods, we have to in parallel start working to make some systemic changes to ensure that there aren't these unnecessary roadblocks to getting these products to market.
Asha Dahya 11:13
Yeah, I love that shift in the way that you're helping me think and hopefully listeners too, in terms of it's not just for one type of person, it's for everyone. This is something that affects families, communities, countries. I'm also intrigued by the terms you're using egg producer and sperm producer more about these labels and how the company is incorporating gender inclusion and diversity into your average, despite the fact that it's called male contraceptive.
Kevin Shane 11:41
That's a great question. And it's one that we are hearing more and more and something that we're very passionate about internally. And using a term like male is is outdated. We're largely shifting away from this binary understanding of gender identity to include more kind of gender identities. And that's a great thing. It's interesting by virtue of the work that we're doing, focusing on non-hormonal reversal methods, the timelines for the development are much longer. So you're talking 5 to 10 years before the first one will actually make it to market.
Therefore, the people who we are designing these products for are today's adolescent and youth, right? And so if you look, there was just a recent study from Pew Research that found in the United States, people under the age of 31 out of every 25% of the population identifies as non-binary. And so when we should be working very closely in data and the numbers kind of drive our decisions, you look at something like that and you think, Oh my God, that's millions and millions and millions of people in this country alone. So when you start thinking about reproductive autonomy for all, about providing services and products for all people, that needs to be representative of all people. Right. So we cannot design. We need to be as inclusive as possible in the products that are developed so that no one feels left out of this, that no one is unserved by these products. So it's something that we are very, very passionate about educating ourselves about, as well as helping to educate the general public. So, I mean, anyone who is listening to this, if you have if this is something you're passionate about and you have the time and inclination, we would love to talk to you, so please reach out to us. We're trying our best. There's only five employees at MCI, so we try our best to be as representative as possible. But it's something that we need to to be sensitive to and educate ourselves about. So any help we can get, the better.
Asha Dahya 13:58
Yeah, absolutely. I think that's really great. I mean, it's something that I'm learning about and I think a lot of people passionate about reproductive autonomy. It's really widening that scope and that ten and being inclusive. So that's yeah, that's really great. And in a nutshell, what does MCI do? And so people can get a general idea and what are the current studies or initiatives that you are funding right now?
Kevin Shane 14:18
Sure. So we are Male Contraceptive Initiative is a501c3 nonprofit organization based in Durham, North Carolina, where I am also based. There's only five of us, five employees so quite a small organization. But we we provide funding and advocacy support for the development of non-hormonal reversal methods of contraception for sperm producers, which is quite a mouthful.
But these are you know, we're often asked because of that, oh, so are you opposed to hormonal contraception? Are you opposed to contraception for egg producers? And the answer is unequivocally no. We support all forms of contraception for all users. For us, though, as an organization, we really saw that, you know, there are hormonal methods that are quite far along. In clinical trials, there's a profusion of methods for egg producers. But what we really saw was in the non-hormonal reversible space, especially long acting methods, there wasn't a lot of funding available for that. And because of the lack of funding, there wasn't a lot of research happening. So we really identified this is quite a niche area that we could have tremendous impact on. And so that's what our focus is. And we what we like to say is that we provide our support to the research community, goes from bench to boardroom . So we have youth initiatives that provide undergraduate internships and even grants for them to work on projects with us. We have graduate and postdoc fellowships. We provide seed grants which are, you know, a couple hundred thousand dollars and then discovery and development grants, which can go up to a half a million dollars. And those can go to academic labs, small pharma startups. And then we have investment vehicles, program related investments where we take equity stake or we invest in later stage targets that are promising and heading towards clinical trials. And that is to not only provide additional funding support for these tests necessary for clinical trials, but also for our own internal viability. Right? So if we have a return on that investment, we can then take that money and put it into researching additional targets.
So we are again a nonprofit, we like to say, and there's two parts of this statement. One is fantastic. One is not so good. We are the second largest funder of non-hormonal reversible contraception for sperm producers in the United States.
Asha Dahya 17:04
Who is the largest?
Kevin Shane 17:06
The federal government. The U.S.. Government…but that's the good part. The bad part is we put about 1.2 and $1.5 million a year into labs to to do the research necessary for developing these products. That is a that's a great step forward. That's obviously a necessary step. But the reality is and the numbers kind of it depends on how you how you like to view these sources, but upwards of it costs upwards of $1,000,000,000 to bring a new drug to market.
Asha Dahya 17:42
Kevin Shane 17:42
When you think about where we're at with our investment levels, we need to address. Yes. The ramp that funding up so that we can fund the clinical trials necessary to get these products to market. So that's when you see these things evolve. There's a ton of internal jokes. It's not gallows humor where people say, you know, we've been ten years away for 50 years from the next contraceptive method for sperm producers. And what drives that timeline is not the science, it's the funding. So there is, you know, there's a lot of potential targets out there. We just need to get the funding in place necessary to support and accelerate that.
Asha Dahya 18:29
So the good news is the funding exists. The bad news is how do we get the government to really take more action? And maybe that's something we can chat about in a call to action toward the end. And so the what are the studies being done on contraceptive methods right now? Can you tell us more about those that are happening. And also, what is the interest or demand for male or, you know, sperm producer contraceptives that are out there?
Kevin Shane 18:54
Yeah, that's a great question. And I'll kind of touch on that. First is the the two things that we hear the most are or the two questions that are asked most prominently are will then be interested in these methods. And will female partners in a heterosexual relationship trust their male partner to contraceptive? And the data unequivocally says yes to both. So we we funded a consumer research study a few years ago that found it identified a potential market in America alone of 17 million men that are really actively seeking better and more methods.
So that's a really huge market right there. Yes, 100%. And then you also see there's all studies from from all over the world that show trust is not is not a factor in this. Right. So egg producers will trust sperm producers to contraception. And that's that's an important point to to kind of hammer home in terms of what's in development. It's been very exciting, not just the non hormonal field that we work in, but if you look at the hormonal side, there is a gel called nest.
It's a nest around testosterone. Shell, which you may have heard about. It's this you rub it on your shoulder, it causes you to cause them to be infertile. It's the first contraceptive method for sperm producers to make it to stage three clinical trials, and it is going wonderfully. So, you know, anecdotally, we've talked to some of the participants in the trial as well as their partners, and people seem to really love it. The side effects have been very minimal. People are very happy about it. So that is most likely, knock on wood, if things continue to progress. Well, with that. That is, you know, something you can anticipate being on the market in the next couple of years. So that's that's coming soon. And and don't hold me to that.
Asha Dahya 21:00
Okay, I won't.
Kevin Shane 21:02
But then on the non-hormonal side that we focus on, we invest in a whole kind of across the spectrum of products. So everything from, you know, long acting methods. So we work with we have a grantee in Charlottesville, Virginia, called Contraline and as well as one based in the West Coast in California called Vassal Gel. And they are both hydrogels, which are injected into the now vast difference, which is kind of the tube where sperm exits the body. So it acts like a reversal vasectomy and could last for upwards of years. So it could be like one of those. Set it and forget it.
Contraline likes to refer to their product, which is called Adam as the male IUD. So it's that's that long acting method where, you know, I often say to people, imagine you've got a child going off to college, they get this injection and they're guaranteed not to cause a pregnancy for the entire duration of their time at the university. That would be unbelievable. Right. So those are long acting. There's also we launched a for profit subsidiary this year called Contraceptive Accelerator Network, and that is to help later stage targets with the funding necessary to kind of do the, you know, the necessary efficacy and safety testing prior to a clinical trial And our first target that we're working on with CAM is the acronym. It's called Triptonide. It's a trade herb.
Asha Dahya 22:38
Love that name.
Kevin Shane 22:39
I know, it's wonderful. It's a well, it's even better. It's derived from an herb called colloquially known as the Thunder God Vine,
Asha Dahya 22:46
Kevin Shane 22:46
[It's used] in traditional herbal Chinese medicine. And there is a paper published in Nature that got a lot of attention about this, for it was shown to be completely effective and safe in animal models. And what it does is, you know, after you consume it for a few weeks, it prevents the sperm head from developing properly. So it's kind of a deformed sperm head, so therefore cannot the fertilized egg. And after a few weeks of stopping taking it, your fertility returns completely. So they've shown this to be safe and effective in animal models and we're rapidly getting it towards clinical trials so we can start testing it in humans.
Contraline is also planning on starting testing in humans in Australia later this year or early next year, and COVID kind of delayed some of those timelines. We also, you know, we're working on trying to think with, you know, in parallel to what we saw with egg producer contraceptive development. You know, when you start with a pill and all of a sudden now we have, you know, IUDs and injections and, you know, also this profusion of different methods. So we as we're developing the targets, we also want people thinking about the delivery methods, too.
So we're supporting the development of a biodegradable implant which can deliver contraceptive therapeutics over an extended period of time. So we're working with a developer at the University of North Carolina on that. And then also there's there's other methods that target things like an enzyme that prevents the sperm tail from from moving. So like the sperm literally can't swim. So therefore they know you're infertile. And so a lot of these the methods that we work on because of Non-Hormonal, they're far more targeted, right? So hormonal contraception affects the entire endocrine system. It's a systemic intervention. But what we're doing is looking at all of the mechanisms of action that take place within the reproductive biological system of sperm producers and say, well, what if we just flip this switch on? What if we flip that switch off? What would happen? And so early on when I started MCI, we had invested in doing a landscape. A view of what what is out there? What is the science that that we are even aware of that people have been working on?
And on our website, we have a database. It's well over 100 different targets that have done exactly this, have looked at, okay, this enzyme, this protein, this thing is necessary for the development of sperm cells, its ability to swim, their ability to fertilize an egg. So we're we're looking at the entire spectrum of ways of reversibly interrupting fertility. And so we invest in a whole gamut of things. And as we put on the website and the database, if you are a scientist working on targets that are not represented in that database, please reach out to us because we'd love to support you and we'd love to promote your work.
Asha Dahya 26:02
It's so fascinating. Like just the way you explain it all. It's all these things that it makes total sense. But like you said, there should be more education about it. So it's really encouraging to see that you're doing that. And hopefully it'll encourage more, more companies to start up and, you know, do more research and get more funding from the government who has it. So that's that's really exciting and and fascinating to hear about.
So switching gears a little bit and zooming out of the larger landscape of reproductive science that so that again and so zooming out a little to the larger landscape of reproductive health care, how does MCI respond to what has been happening politically? You know, the Dobbs decision regarding abortion, the potential threat of birth control, you know, by Justice Clarence, in his opinion, in the Dobbs decision, which was very concerning to many people. And, you know, even conservatives in Congress that push back against covering egg producer contraceptives in the Affordable Care Act, you know, things like that. How does MCI view those or, you know, do you take a position? How do you respond to that?
Kevin Shane 27:06
It's very interesting and encouraging to see how in such a negative situation, how it's really kind of catalyzed a lot of thinking and conversation around this. Right. I think a lot of people prior to Roe v Wade being overturned kind of took for granted the I know the first birth control pill came out 60 years ago . So this is we're not talking about a considerable amount of time. Yeah. But people, especially my generation, the younger generations, it's, it's kind of like the Internet, right? Like, of course, this has always been here. We didn't know what it was like before this.
And now suddenly we're in a place in which our reproductive freedoms and our reproductive rights are less than what our grandparents were. That's a very staggering, horrible direction that this country is heading in. But also, you know, when I started MCI, we've always been kind of cautious around talking about abortion because we don't again, by virtue of the reproductive biology of sperm producers. Nothing that we work on or fund is abortive by virtue of the biological reality of things. But internally. After Roe v Wade was overturned, we said, you know, this is wrong. This is not right. Even though we don't work on a board of techniques or procedures. We are part of the reproductive health ecosystem and we need to speak out on this. So we did we put out quite a statement. And in summary, that statement is really that our role and what we feel is the role of of other funding agencies, whether they be governmental or non-governmental, is to provide the resources, whether it's educational resources or actual products necessary for people to achieve their family planning goals. Full stop. You don't have to justify your family planning objectives or goals to me. I do not. I don't care. That's not true. I mean, obviously I care, but it's none of my business. And so I think, you know, and we as an organization believe that it's not.No one has the right to legislate what other people do with their bodies and their decision whether when to have children. So I think collectively that's what we need to consider, is that what works for me? What I view as important for my life is likely going to be different from what's important to you in your life . And that's good. That's not a negative thing. We're not, you know, and that's I think it's very interesting when you look at it through the lens of birth control for sperm producers, no one is a monolith. You know, we try to look at everyone as a collective.
We need to celebrate everybody's individual interests and pursuits and support those things. And that may fly in the face of what we want for. You know, for example, I have a sibling who has six children. I am childfree. That is his decision. My decision is my decision. And we need to be comfortable with that. But I think what's really disappointing is, again, you look at the data and. A majority of Americans support abortion rights.
This decision flies in the face of the majority opinion in this nation. So I understand that the Supreme Court is not beholden to constituents the same way as representative officials are. However, those justices are appointed by the elected officials that we vote into office. So I think what this indicates and what everyone should think about is how much power you have in your vote. Right now, we're heading into midterm elections in the United States next couple of weeks. And I think people should think about that, like really consider the power of your vote, the power of your voice and speak out on this. Because if you get beyond just the. If you want to get into the cold, hard facts of this. Right. So there's about 100 million unintended pregnancies every year. More than a quarter of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. And that results in about five and a half billion dollars in health care related costs. It's needed to address the ramifications of these unintended pregnancies. So that's a huge number right now. I hit you with another number. One equals five. So we say this quite often one equals five for every $1 invested in helping to avoid an unintended pregnancy. We get a $5 return in savings on Medicare related expenses for addressing those unintended pregnancies. That translates to $10.5 billion in savings every year.
So if you are, again, looking at... I'm not a political scientist, but taking a step back and saying this is a representative democracy. One of the chief mandates of that representation is fiscal management and responsibility. How is it fiscal fiscally responsible to avoid an investment where you get a five time return? Very few investments have that level of return. So this is where it's the decisions are not being made based on majority opinion. They're not being based on financial, a responsibility. So what are we doing this for? You know, it's punitive for no reason. I think it's incumbent upon all of us to talk to each other, to reach out to our elected officials, let them know how you feel about this. And and also understand that, you know. Your reproductive autonomy should be a basic human right. You know, you shouldn't have to ask permission to do what you want. Be said that your family planning goals. So whatever we can do to empower individuals, we need to do. And if that means taking to the streets and campaigning, great.
I think, you know, when you talked before, I'd mentioned that, you know, part of our kind of hopeful vision for our mission statement being reproductive autonomy for all is that it not only capture the ethos of our organization, but it becomes a social movement. You know, this is what we are and again, often joke saying we're waiting for our Greta Thunberg. But like the young people, especially in this country and even internationally, when you talk to them, they understand that this is wrong. This lack of options, this lack of reproductive equity is is an injustice for all people. And so we need to really look beyond contraception as facilitating, you know, risk free sex and look at it more of what are all the social gains that we are missing out on because we don't have these methods.
Asha Dahya 34:33
Yeah. I mean, it boggles my mind that six people on a bench in the Supreme Court were able to decide make a huge decision in Adobe case that seven out of ten in Americans believe in the right to privacy to get an abortion. And think about how many millions, hundreds of millions of people, 330 million people in America. I mean, it just baffles my mind. So maybe I'm going to need you to go to the floor of Congress one day to recite those specific facts that say, like, hey, if you want to be fiscally responsible, fiscally responsible, this these are the cold, hard facts.
Hopefully, you know, that education will come out. And, you know, with many things related to reproductive health, there's often a lack of widespread information or education about contraceptives, like you were saying, you know, what can we learn about the potential impact of male contraceptives or sperm producer contraceptives? How would it change the conversation around gender equality? Reproductive autonomy, similar to the way the birth control pill gave women economic freedom. You know, when it first came on the market, what are some of the revolutionary things that we could potentially look forward to?
Kevin Shane 35:40
Well, this is one of our favorite talk about, you know, speculative design and thinking about what could what could the most incredible future look like, as you touched on, you know, even the most optimistic person no one could have possibly expected or anticipated all of the incredibly positive societal shifts and changes that came with the first birth control pill. Right. Nobody could have possibly anticipated how much, you know, empowering women to complete their educational goals, to join the workforce, to, you know, really be viewed in a completely different lens. You know, it's incredible when I think about how different, you know, my parents are in their late seventies, early eighties.
I'm in my forties. And, you know, when I grew up, it was it was common for well, I'm my father went to work. My mother sacrificed her career to stay at home, to raise the kids. And then later in life, she went back to work, which is fantastic. But like that whole those traditional models of what a family construct looks like are totally arcane anymore. You're like, that's that's weird, you know, anachronistic to it to where we are today. And it's really exciting for me. Like one of the things we talk about is imagine if every single child was born intentionally. Right? So that to a, to parents who are financially, emotionally, generally ready for this, that they've planned for this, that it's intentional. We're prepared for this. You know, look at like the foster care system. Look at. So what would we gain?
And also what would we lose if every birth was intentional? And I think that's really exciting and it's hard to kind of just define exactly what it is, but we know it's going to be positive, right? So when we talk to people about this, it's really interesting. Contraceptive conversations can be quite divisive. It becomes that his or hers, yours or mine, when in reality it's ours. So the next methods that come out, methods for sperm producers are really the next generation of contraception R&D.
So it's a missing piece that doesn't just benefit the user. It benefits all people. So. When you think about reproductive autonomy that term, that means being able to do what you want, whenever you want. Right. So currently, no one has reproductive autonomy because sperm producers need to rely on egg producers to take contraception in order to avoid an unintended pregnancy. So therefore, I don't really have reproductive autonomy. An egg producer needs to bear the burden of taking contraception with, you know, there's incredible benefits to that. I'm not being negative about contraception. There's also side effects. There's also issues,
Asha Dahya 38:50
There's a burden. Yeah.
Kevin Shane 38:52
Yeah. And there's. You have to do something right. Imagine if you are an egg producer today and most egg producers will take contraception for 30, 40 years of their lives, a majority of their lives from teen years to their mid-forties. That's a huge, long time. That's a long, long time. Imagine if during that time you could say, I'm not going to take anything and I'll still be able to avoid an unintended pregnancy. So I think that's where we start thinking and I love the fact that you said conversation. There's one thing as minor as it sounds that I'm really hopeful for is that it will increase conversations, especially within heterosexual couples, about who's taking what, when and why. So when you talk to the sperm producers today, you know, they'll most often say like, oh, yeah, I guess I would take something because it's hypothetical. Like, we need to get beyond the hypothetical so we can actually have some real conversations about, will you take this? And if not, why? And also giving sperm producers the opportunity to think more deeply about what are they interested in? You know, as I said.
Asha Dahya 40:12
Sort of being passive about it.
Kevin Shane 40:13
Oh 100%. And if you look at the reproductive journey of egg producers, you know, we know based on 60 years of research and observation that preferences change over time. So birth control, a daily pill may work at this stage. An IUD at this stage. Blah, blah, blah. And that profusion of options allows for a more intimate understanding of your individual needs. Yeah, sperm producers don't have that yet. And that manifests in many ways, including if you look at the health care system. Again, I'm 45 years old. I've never been to a urologist who told I've never talked to a doctor about my reproductive health. And that is a huge detriment because it's not just about, you know, whether or not you want to have kids. It's like, I want to know how my body works, you know? And I think.
Asha Dahya 41:10
Kevin Shane 41:10
These methods allow you to do that. So I think, again, with once these new methods come out, we move beyond hypothetical scenarios, beyond speculation, and we allow people to have actual conversations about their interest needs experiences. But, you know, I mean, going back again, beyond avoiding unintended pregnancies and things like that, by being able to meaningfully reduce unintended pregnancies, we would be able to better meet our sustainability objectives if we're able to empower people to control their fertility.
Asha Dahya 41:48
I think that's really important. And also, I should mention, you know, back when I said that, you know, the birth control pill had a very revolutionary effect on society, I also should have added that and acknowledge that there was a very dark history in relation to the emergence of birth control, there was a history of racism and , you know, the Puerto Rico experiments. And so it's important to acknowledge that and to learn from it, and hopefully that we as a country can do better. And it sounds like with more education and more conversation, like you said, and and finding ways that serve all people, that bring more people into the conversation, gender diversity, that we can move to a society that, you know, benefits everyone, not just a select few.So speaking of everyone, what can the average person do to help push these current birth control studies forward? Bring them to market? You know, should there be more sperm producers sharing their stories, making TikTok videos, testifying before Congress, like I mentioned, holding up signs like what are some of the everyday things that an average person could do?
Kevin Shane 42:51
Yes, to everything you just do, 100% are working in this field. It's easy to get frustrated and it's easy to become pessimistic. But I think what aligns all of us is like a fundamental optimism. There's so much work to be done that anything people do is helpful, right? So we have a whole page on our website about how to get involved. And, I mean, there's huge things like, you know, being willing to be a participant in a clinical trial for a new contraceptive method, that's obviously a huge ask.
But I honestly think that the most important thing is for us individually to understand, to think about what are my family planning objectives, what are my needs. This would be health care broadly, but specifically, obviously contraception. And then once you kind of arrive at that and seek out information, inform yourself and then start questioning why is the system the way it. Is today. It's kind of a running joke any time you talk to younger people or even older people like me. Sexual education experiences are abysmal, both in the United States and overseas. So why aren't we doing more to educate our youth about how their bodies work in a way that is constructive and positive? I just interviewed one of my nephews not too long ago for our podcast, and he said that, you know, oh, well, sex education that was in a a health module all about dangers. So it was included with tobacco use and driver safety.
Asha Dahya 44:35
Oh my god.
Kevin Shane 44:37
And he said his big takeaway was, if I have premarital sex, I'm going to burn in hell. You know, it's like I'm....
Asha Dahya 44:42
Going to have sex, get pregnant and die.
Kevin Shane 44:44
Yeah, there's a healthy message to send to children. So I think there's one educating yourself, finding out what resources are out there, contributing towards that knowledge base. Right. So, you know, we have a whole section on our website about educational primers because we realize most people don't understand how reproductive biology works. And if you don't have that foundational understanding, how are you going to understand how the contraceptive products work? So I think educating yourself and then once you have that baseline education, you understand what your interests and needs are.
Start talking to your friends and family and loved ones and neighbors and whomever, you know. But like you said, I think Tik-Tok social media is an unbelievable opportunity. These are free platforms that you have an amazing potential for amplifying messages. Get out there, talk to people, share your messages. Make sure that people understand. Like, again, going back to. We are we live in a democracy in the United States. These are officials that are elected to make decisions for us.
They listen to their constituents. They will react to what they see. And if they keep seeing more and more of this demand, then it's going to be very, very difficult to not justify providing these services and products to people. So, you know, and there's a whole slew of, you know, options on our get on our website, reach out to us. We're more than happy. We have surveys. We have all sorts of ways that we can capture and share people's information. But, you know, again, going back to my experiences working in human centered design overseas, never underestimate the power of an individual narrative like the serendipity that arrives from just having someone have the personal vulnerability and the strength to share.
Hey, here's how I feel about something that can unlock and catalyze conversations and thinking for a whole host of people. So never underestimate the individual power that you have and that your voice has in being a change maker in the world. And we need all the help we can get. Again, there's five people at MCI, so we are more than happy to help take on any volunteers or provide any information to help empower advocates out there. Because, you know, this is we wouldn't be doing this work if we didn't believe it was so critical. And it is going to be world changing, life changing, life saving. Let's all just get on board with that and make sure that we speak with a collective voice and that voice is heard.
Asha Dahya 47:23
Amen to that. I love that. Just like Kevin said, you can head to the MCI website and social media. We're going to link to all of that and get in touch.
Kevin Shane 47:32
Asha Dahya 47:36
There you go. Well, Kevin, thank you so much for sharing this wealth of information and just ideas and insights. It's been really, really wonderful. And hopefully we can be part of continuing the conversation with you and your organization in the future, and we're excited to see where it all goes. So thank you so much.
Kevin Shane 47:53
No, thank you very much for having me. And like I was just saying about individual voices and sharing narratives, I think doing shows like this, like the fact that you're willing to talk about this topic and present this to your audience is a massive step forward. So thank you so much for covering this.
Asha Dahya 48:11:02
Well now that you have heard and digested all this eye-opening information, you want to get involved, right? Head to MaleContraceptive.org to get familiar with all the methods and studies they are funding, and follow them on social media to support their work in the pursuit of reproductive autonomy for all.
The rePROFilm podcast is executive produced by mama.film
Hosted and produced by me, Asha Dahya,
Edited by Kylie Brown,
With original music by ParisJane and Marrice Anthony.
The periodical is programmed by Neha Aziz and written by Emily Christensen
Alex Sgambati is our Social Media Manager and
Rebecca Sosa is our Distribution & Impact Strategist.