Scientists report that a non-hormonal male birth contraceptive was 99% effective with no side effects in mice. Human trials are expected to begin within the year.
Why Hasn’t There Been a Birth Control Pill for Men Before?
Birth control responsibilities have always fallen on the woman. But did you know, a male can impregnate a female every day for nine months resulting in 273 pregnancies to her one? At a minimum, the responsibility falls on both parties as it takes two to tango. However, what is available to men and women differs vastly.
Studies have shown that men are willing to bear responsibility in preventing pregnancy. The science just falls behind. Effective male contraceptives require a cease/ decrease in sperm creation, prevention of the sperm from fertilizing the egg, and/ or from leaving the body. The research to fit such a bill is costly and time-consuming. After decades of work, scientists are making headway with new male contraceptives.
What Birth Control Options are Available for Men Now?
Currently, on the market, male pregnancy prevention includes condoms and vasectomies. Condoms are the most common and readily available, free at medical facilities. Used correctly, they are 98% effective however, many couples report condoms to offer interference. For those who find the wrap bothersome, there are vasectomies.
A little bravery and each vas deferens of the male anatomy is surgically cut and sealed, so sperm can’t make its way out and instead is absorbed by the body. With some health insurance and government programs, the surgery cost is low and over 99% effective. This procedure can be reversed; however reversals are not always successful, and they are costly.
There are behavioral methods such as withdrawal and outercourse that technically count as birth control options. Withdrawal is also known as the “pulling out'' method is tried but not true. The effective rate is low and does not take into account pre-ejaculation. Outercourse encompasses any sexual practice where the penis does not enter the vaginal track, erasing any path for the sperm to fertilize the egg.
Given the present options, it is time for a balance in birth control from men that avoids gear for your genitals and permanent sterilization.
What is the Male Pill?
At this year’s American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting, researchers presented a male birth contraceptive that can fill the gap in pregnancy prevention disparities. Md Abdullah Al Noman, who presented the findings said “scientists have been trying for decades to develop an effective male oral contraceptive, but there are still no approved pills on the market.” The main setback was staying true to non-hormonal medicine.
According to Al Noman, “men produce around 1,500 sperm per heartbeat. This massive production of sperm needs vitamin A in different stages. But we need vitamin A for many essential physiological processes as well.” Al Noman and his team set out to create a pill that “specifically blocked the action of vitamin A in such a way that it reduces sperm production without interfering with other functions of vitamin A to preclude side effects.”
When Can We Expect a Male Birth Control?
The new non-hormonal pill is said to block the proteins essential for fertilization. It was 99% effective when tested in mice, demonstrating sterilization after 4 weeks of oral intake with no side effects. Once medicating ceased viable sperm returned within 4 to 6 weeks. Scientists hope these results will be translated into human trials set to take place later this year. If successful this will be the first non-hormonal male birth control pill. A step further is leveling the playing field of pregnancy prevention.
What Other Forms of Male Birth Control are Scientists Testing?
Another male birth contraceptive currently in the works is a hormonal gel. The Nestorone/Testosterone gel is applied daily to the shoulders which block natural testosterone production and reduces sperm production. The gel is currently in its human trial phase with data still being collected to deduce results. If successful this will be a viable birth control option, although with hormones there are the possibilities of side effects.
RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance) is a non-hormonal option undergoing clinical trials in India. This procedure injects a non-hormonal gel into the lumen of male vas deferens creating a blockage that prevents the sperm from leaving the body. The procedure is expected to be reversible, with another injection that removes the blockade enabling the sperm to swim freely. Under licensed development in the United States RISUG is called Vasalgel. There is no insight as to when Vasalgel will be available in the US.
A unique option in the works is the COSO ultrasonic testicle bath. This mini tub uses water at a specific temperature and vibration to temporarily cause infertility. It will require consulting your medical physicians to be properly sized and fitted. COSO has not been tested on humans but showed effectiveness in animal trials. Like the new pill, it would be non-hormonal and reversible.
What are the Male Birth Control Research Activities MCI is Supporting?
The Male Contraceptive Initiative (MCI) supports an array of research on birth control options for men and couples. With MCIs support researchers can make their work and product available to the general public. Starting with Contraline, the company working on a single injection that ensures a man cannot cause a pregnancy for years and is completely reversible. It would work similarly to the RISUG/ Vasalgel injection.
MCI is also supporting two teams of scientists led by Dr. Wei Yan and Dr. Mario Buffone. These researchers are developing a reversible male birth control that impacts the head of the sperm, preventing it from fertilizing an egg. Dr. Rahima Benhabbour with help from MCI is creating a biodegradable implant injected just below the skin’s surface that can deliver a male contraceptive over a sustained period of time.
Dr. Gunda Georg and Dr. Mike O’Rand are leading different teams with different methods for a daily, or even on-demand, method of male birth control that prevents sperm from being able to swim when taken. With 30 years of work on spermatogenesis and fertilization, Dr. Stephen L’Hernault and his lab are focused on a reversible male birth control method that causes sperm to become sterile.
Where are the Non-Hormonal Contraceptives that Have No Side Effects for Women?
With all the research dedicated to male birth control, it raises awareness of the pitfalls of female contraceptives. The main methods of prevention for women are hormonal preventatives which are known to cause severe side effects such as acne, headaches, weight gain, mood changes, and depression. That is why such an effort is in place to find non-hormonal options for males. What about females?
Alternative non-hormonal options currently available are limited to female condoms, vaginal gel, spermicidal gel, sponges, diaphragms, and cervical caps. The latter two methods require consulting your medical physicians and getting fitted for the device. Although non-hormonal, these birth control options are not without side effects. Many experience vaginal burning, cramping, and UTIs. With IUDs, some women even face vaginal tearing.
Changing Times and Growing Support for Male Contraceptives
With talk of birth control for men comes the cultural reality of perceptions of contraceptive responsibility and fear of emasculation. Despite the fears that change may plague society, studies show men are accepting and willing to participate in active pregnancy prevention.
The qualms of male contraceptives do not differ from those of female birth control. Cultural factors that can influence such family planning discussions include gender role inequality, religious influences, associations of contraception with sexual promiscuity, and difficulties in discussing sexual health issues.
A study published in Basic and Clinical Andrology found the majority of females surveyed accepted the possibility of a male pill, “with 87% feeling it would serve as a viable means of contraception.” Society recognizes the role males play in creating life and is unpacking the burden placed on females to solely prevent it.
With all the scientists at work, clinical testing soon to be and already in action for some contraceptives, it won’t be long before she, he, and they are asked, “Are you on the pill?”