The Future of Male Birth Control?

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 A four-year study defending the efficacy of male birth control was cut short, but could similar contraceptives still have a future?

Women are no strangers to the various available methods of birth control. Ask any adult female in the U.S., regardless of any medical expertise, and you’re like to find that she’s familiar with the Pill, intrauterine devices (IUDs), injectable hormonal contraceptives and more—as well as the dangers associated with each. Yet, until recently, men were left out of the birth control conversation nearly entirely.

In some ways, it makes sense. The woman would actually be the one to make the choice to carry the pregnancy to term or terminate. The “her body, her choice” mantra seems to come into play, leaving women in control of any birth control measures that are or aren’t taken.

Yet, shouldn’t men be able to take measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well? While the man might not be incredibly important to the pregnancy during the nine months after conception, if the woman chooses to carry the pregnancy to term, he’s bound to play a large role, either by raising the child or offering financial support. Many birth control options for women are long-lasting but reversible, while the options for men have traditionally been limited to condoms and vasectomies. The inequality of the responsibilities held by each gender did not go unnoticed, and in 2008, a trial began to test the possibility of men receiving injectable hormonal contraceptives similar to the injections available for women.

In November 2016, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism published a study examining the efficacy of male birth control. Titled Efficacy and Safety of an Injectable Combination Hormonal Contraceptive for Men, the study followed 320 men in monogamous relationships from 2008-2012, and the participants each received intramuscular injections of 200-mg norethisterone enanthate combined with 1000-mg testosterone undecanoate, administered every 8 weeks.1

The study was an overwhelming success. Only four pregnancies occurred among the partners of the 266 male participants who remained in the study until the end; however, due to complaints of negative side effects, several participants dropped out and, eventually, the study concluded early.

Negative Side Effects

As with any other study containing human participants, one might expect that the study would end early in the event of severe side effects. However, the particular negative side effects experienced by the participants may not seem as severe as you might expect. The most common side effects noticed by the participants were:

  • Acne
  • Injection site pain
  • Increased libido
  • Mood disorders1

These side effects might sound familiar. Planned Parenthood lists the following side effects that may accompany the Depo-Provera shot, a common injectable form of birth control for women:

  • Change in sex drive
  • Change in appetite or weight gain
  • Depression
  • Hair loss or increased hair on the face or body
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Sore breasts2

Of course, Depo-Provera has long been out of trial, having earned expert approval in 1992.3 Admittedly, many forms of birth control—Depo-Provera included—struggled through years of trials before earning FDA approval. Yet, these side effects still exist. If they were deemed so detrimental to male participants that a study exploring the possibility of a viable form of male birth control had to end prematurely, is there a future for male contraceptive options?

The answer is up in the air, but explorations of these contraceptive options did not conclude alongside the aforementioned trial. The Parsemus Foundation is pursuing two different forms of male birth control, both similar to options available to women. Their team is expecting to begin human trials of an injectable contraceptive called Vasalgel, which involves injecting a polymer hydrogel directly into the vas deferens, later in 2017.4 Simultaneously, they are in the early stages of what is currently called the Clean Sheets Pill, which would prevent the release of semen during intercourse.5

However, as with any new drug, these options are unlikely to become publicly available for several more years—and the reluctance of men to try these new options will only lengthen the wait. When the Parsemus Foundation polled men to judge interest in the Clean Sheets Pill, only 20% responded positively.5

So, do you think that male contraceptives hold promise for the future? Let us know in the comments.


References

  1. Behre, H., et al. Efficacy and safety of an injectable combination hormonal contraceptive for men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/jc.2016-2141
  2. Planned Parenthood. Depo-Provera.
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Not FDA-approved, but experts recommend Depo-Provera. 1992.
  4. Parsemus Foundation. Vasalgel FAQ.
  5. Parsemus Foundation. Clean Sheets Pill.
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About Author

Sarah Sutherland
Sarah Sutherland

Sarah Sutherland is a staff writer at ADVANCE. Contact: ssutherland@advanceweb.com

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