Some might say that reproduction is the most ‘natural’ thing in the world.
Almost all highly evolved creatures engage in some form of sex as reproduction, in a bid to mix up genes and produce offspring most suited to their environment.
One of the scientists responsible for the first oral contraceptive pill has claimed, however, that reproduction could soon be taken out of the bedroom completely – to become the sole province of the laboratory.
In fact, Professor Carl Djerassi predicts that by as soon as 2050, sex will simply become an activity of pleasure, with young adults routinely freezing their sperm and eggs when they are at their healthiest, before submitting to voluntary sterilisation.
Talking to the Telegraph, Prof Djerassi said the move would see the end of abortions, unwanted pregnancies and even a number of genetic diseases – as standardised screening would be able to predict potential problems.
And the 91-year-old Austrian-American chemist and author is not a man to be taken lightly. His list of accomplishments goes beyond kick-starting the sexual revolution and liberating a whole generation. You can also add a number of plays, short stories and novels to his achievements.
But Djerassi will always be known for his pioneering work in producing the synthetic version of the hormone progesterone.
The ‘father’ of the Pill
The initial aim of Prof Djerassi’s research was to produce a treatment that could aid fertility. He started by attempting to create a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone.
Progesterone is produced by the body during pregnancy. It encourages the growth of blood vessels in the lining of the womb and stimulates glands that secrete nutrients which nourish the early embryo.
The hormone derivatives are the active ingredient in what we now call the Pill, which launched in 1961 and went on to transform the lives of women and the society they lived in
Progesterone products act a natural contraceptive by fooling the body into thinking it is already pregnant, triggering a contraceptive response.
To learn more about the history of the contraceptive pill, see How the pill changed modern society.
Will there ever be a male contraceptive pill?
Since the 1960s the processes involved in manufacturing the Pill have been refined, leading to several different versions.
Technology has reached the point where a male contraceptive pill, which would block the effects of testosterone on sperm production, is also possible. However, Prof Djerassi believes this type of contraception will never take off due to certain entrenched fears from the male population.
He argues that male concerns over the effects of freezing on sperm will scupper attempts by pharmaceutical companies to produce the next revolution in birth control.
Prof Djerassi says that testing all the possible outcomes of placing sperm in cold storage for 30 or more years would prove too difficult and expensive for big pharma to bother with, especially when there are better money-making conditions to tackle such as Alzheimer’s, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
If Prof Djerassi’s vision comes to pass there will be no need for the male Pill.
Why would women freeze their eggs?
Prof Djerassi predicts that increasing numbers of women will choose to freeze their eggs as a matter of course in order to reduce the pressure on developing a career, or finding the right partners.
And Prof Djerassi suggests that progress in genetic screening will see most women opt for IVF in order to safeguard against hereditary diseases and other complications.
He says that for those women, the separation between sex and reproduction will be complete.