Male contraception, young male smiling and placing a red capsule pill into his mouth | e-Surgery

Is The Male Contraceptive Pill Just Over The Horizon?

When it comes to contraception and safe sex, men have limited options. The most common form of male contraceptive is of course the tried and tested condom. As effective as they are, condoms can split. Some men also find that condoms can decrease sensation during sex, and the preparation involved can break the flow in the bedroom. Still, condoms were really the only reliable option to protect against pregnancy for men unless they wanted to commit to something much more drastic like a vasectomy.

However, new breakthroughs in medicine may have opened up a range of new contraceptive options for men. The male pill, contraceptive injections and … contraceptive gel! Are the days of restrictive sexual protection for men really over? Or is it all media hype?

Let’s take a look at the facts behind these cutting edge male contraceptives that some say could be hitting the market soon.

Young male with a bears wearing glasses and a white t-shirt looking interested. He has his chin rested in his thumb and index finger | The Male Pill: Myth Or The Future Of Contraception? | e-Surgery

The Male Pill: Myth Or Reality?

The male contraceptive pill has been researched for a long time, but has never been released for prescription. Simply put, it’s still a work in progress. Why is it taking so long? After all, women have had access to safe and effective birth control pills such as Cerelle and Rigevidon for decades.

One of the major problems in developing the male contraceptive pill has been due to hormones. One of the hormones that blocks sperm production, progestin, also lowers levels of testosterone in the body. Testosterone is such an important hormone for men that low levels of the hormone in the body lead to a range of unpleasant health problems. These can include low mood and fatigue, a drop in libido, erectile dysfunction and weight gain. Although a progestin pill could work as a contraceptive, men didn’t want to experience the range of side effects caused by such a pill.

However, new innovations have led to a male pill that successfully passed a safety trial this year [1]. By combining progestin with testosterone in a single pill, researchers from LA BioMed and University from Washington managed to create a more balanced male contraceptive. The theory was that while the progestin would work to stop sperm production, the testosterone present in the pill would keep the hormone to healthy levels in the body. A placebo trial using the new pill seemed to show that men taking the combined hormone medication had significantly lower sperm production, with only mild side effects [2].

It’s a big step in the right direction, but the male pill still has a long way to go. There need to be significant further studies demonstrating its effectiveness as a contraceptive, as well as managing its side effects. The male pill may not be a myth, but it isn’t a reality for us yet.

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Can An Injection Work As A Male Contraceptive?

A pill hasn’t been the only approach to male contraception. There have been promising trials involving hormone injections. Similar to the male combined pill, the contraceptive injection would involve a combination of progestogen (to suppress sperm count) and testosterone.

There are a number of factors that make the male contraceptive injection less attractive than a pill, however. Firstly, it’s an injection in the buttocks! Certainly not as convenient and stress free as swallowing a capsule with a glass of water. The injection method could involve repeat appointments every eight weeks alongside sending sperm samples to doctors to make sure the contraception was working effectively. 

If all this sounds like a pain in the backside, then we’ve yet to even mention the side effects. Acne was a common one, affecting nearly half of all men who were administered the injection. Muscle aches and emotional disorder were also cited. In fact, the contraceptive injection study was cut short due to the high rate of side effects. There were also concerns that a small amount of men (around 5%) didn’t fully recover their sperm levels within one year of stopping the treatment.

Nevertheless, the injection is a step forward for men’s sexual health. As further studies refine the treatment, an improved male contraception injection could be a viable option in the future.

What The Hell Is Contraceptive Gel?

One of the most recent innovations in men’s sexual health is contraceptive gel. It’s currently being tested by real life couples as their main form of contraceptive and has received some glowing reviews [3].

Containing the same hormonal composition as the male pill or injection, the gel is applied to the skin on the shoulders and upper arms. By being absorbed directly through the skin into the bloodstream, it’s believed the gel could be a more effective contraceptive method than a pill. After a few months of application, the gel should lower a man’s sperm count enough for it to be used as the sole contraceptive. 

According to the couples currently testing the gel, it’s effective at protecting against pregnancy and seems to incur less side effects than the pill or injection. It will take a while to get conclusive results from this ongoing trial, and so the gel may not be hitting the market for a while. Still, it’s a promising product in the future of men’s contraception.

How Long We Will Have To Wait?

As all male contraceptives are currently in development and testing phases, it’s difficult to predict when they’ll be available for prescription at your over-the-counter pharmacy. When it comes to the male pill, it’s easy to be skeptical. After all, news reports have told us of miraculous male contraceptives ‘just around the corner’ for a long time.

Looking at the studies though, it’s clear that real progress is being made. These male contraceptives are no longer mythical medicines, but real products on the long road of testing and approval. There is certainly a market for them – one third of sexually active men in the UK would consider using hormonal contraception [4].

In the meantime, we’ll have to stick to the old standards. But don’t lose hope. Soon enough, it looks like we could be living in a world in which men have a real range of effective choices of contraception.

 

Sources

 

  1. Second male birth control pill passes human trials: UW Medicine NewsRoom | News Room
  2. A birth control pill for men has passed initial human safety tests, experts at a leading medical conference have heard: BBC News | BBC News
  3. A couple from Edinburgh are among the first people in the world to use a male hormonal contraceptive: BBC News | BBC News
  4. Are we ready for men to take the pill?: BBC News | BBC News

Further Reading

  1. What Is The Male Pill? | NHS
  2. Male Birth Control Options | WebMD
  3. Male Contraception | PubMed