Contraception has long been the burden of women. From intrauterine devices to the pill, the options available to women are varied, but each carries potential risks and side effects. Men, on the other hand, have limited choices when it comes to limiting their reproductive potential. Currently, male birth control options include condoms or vasectomy. While condoms provide an effective barrier against sexually transmitted diseases, they are not 100 percent effective in stopping pregnancy. They must also be appropriately used for maximum effectiveness.
The alternative, a vasectomy, is a surgical intervention that severs the vas deferens to block sperm from getting to the urethra. The process is quick and involves limited recovery time (typically not more than a half hour sojourn at a physician’s office). Discomfort is usually minimal in the week following the procedure. It is, however, a permanent birth control option. Reversal surgery is possible, but post-procedure pregnancy rates are only slightly higher than 50 percent. Vasectomies are, therefore, not the ideal option for men who may want to bear children in the future.
Men are often left to rely on their partners for effective birth control options like the contraceptive pill. We now know that there are significant long-term risks associated with taking hormonal birth control. Women taking birth control pills are at a higher risk for stroke and breast cancer, according to studies published in the journals Cancer Research and MedLink Neurology.
Initial research into male birth control was not particularly successful. Findings published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism outlined a study that involved a group of men who were taking hormonal birth control shots. The contraceptive shot was designed to reduce sperm count. The study, however, was halted because of numerous reported ill-effects. Thankfully, researchers are on the hunt for new male birth control options with limited risks and side effects.
Research published in ACS Nano suggests an injectable contraceptive designed to both chemically and physically block sperm in the vas deferens. The layered cocktail was tested in lab rats and successfully blocked pregnancy for at least two months. The block is also reversible since the injected substances may be heated and dissolved using near-infrared. More research into this method is required, but it’s another promising step forward in the search for a safe, side-effect free male birth control option.
Another non-hormonal birth control option is a compound called EP055. A study published in the journal PLOS ONE explains that EP055 may be capable of physically reducing the mobility of sperm without the need for hormonal intervention. At the time of publication, however, the research was still in the animal testing phase.
There is also some talk about a possible genetic form of contraception. Researchers at Michigan State University discovered a way to shut off the gene that’s responsible for the production of sperm in male mice.
In 2018, the Endocrine Society featured a study of a daily hormonal contraception pill for men called dimethandrolone undecanoate or DMAU. The study involved a small group of men who seemed to respond well to the daily dose. While testosterone levels were lower than average in participants taking the pill, none of the men reported any severe side-effects related to low testosterone levels, nor were any detected in further lab testing. The downside of taking the pill? Slight weight gain and a barely noticeable reduction in HDL cholesterol.
Most promising, however, is a development from earlier this year. At an Endocrine Society conference this past March, it was announced that a male birth control pill called 11-beta-MNTDC has successfully passed human trials. The pill is reported to have few side effects, but further studies are planned to determine its effectiveness. The final availability date for a safe male birth control option? Dr. Christina Wang, the co-senior investigator of the study, estimates that it will take about 10 years.
Written by: Steph Coelho