Why Don’t Male Birth Control Pills Exist?
Every unplanned pregnancy starts with a penis — so why aren’t there more birth control options for men?
The burden of birth control falls primarily on women. Pills, patches, rings, implants — nearly all the contraception inventions of the past half century have been for the female body. Some would say that it’s because women experience almost all of the impacts (physical, financial, logistical) of an unplanned pregnancy.
Why don’t guys have options that are longer-lasting than condoms but less of a commitment than vasectomies? Over the years, there have been many attempts to develop a male contraceptive, but in clinical trials men dropped out because of side effects. Yes, female birth control has been known to cause side effects as well, but they’re usually NBD compared to pregnancy. Since men aren’t comparing side effects against potential pregnancy they’re less likely to tolerate them – or that’s the theory.
But many men still want a safe and effective contraceptive option that gives them more control over their reproduction, other than condoms. Fortunately, scientists are continuing to look for a safe and reliable male birth control.
Birth control from Nurx costs as little as $0 with insurance or $15 per month without insurance.
Testing Out Male Contraceptive Options
Over the years, several attempts have been made to develop a male birth control pill. Unfortunately, none have been successful so far. Some have gotten close, however, including one called dimethandrolone undecanoate developed by a team at the University of Washington. Taken daily in pill form, dimethandrolone undecanoate seemed like a complement to the women’s birth control pill — that is, until some of the men in the trial started to complain about a particular side effect, weight gain.
This instance wouldn’t be the first time that an otherwise promising pill was sidelined due to the development of certain side effects. In a trial commissioned by the World Health Organization, an injectable form of male birth control was developed and tested. The men participating received a shot every eight weeks. The injections were effective in reducing sperm counts as a way to help reduce the risk of pregnancy, and when they stopped getting the shots, their fertility returned to normal levels.
The Issues With Side Effects
But the men started dropping out of the trial. Why? They complained about the side effects, including mood swings, acne, and pain at the injection site. One man developed severe depression, and another participant attempted to commit suicide.
The trial was cut short. Men would have to continue waiting if they wanted a convenient form of birth control that rivaled the options available to women.
As NPR science correspondent Rob Stein explained, “There’s a little bit of a different risk-benefit analysis when it comes to men using a contraceptive. When women use a contraceptive, they’re balancing the risks of the drug against the risks of getting pregnant. And pregnancy itself carries risks. But these are healthy men — they’re not going to suffer any risks if they get somebody else pregnant.”
The Future of Male Contraceptives
While it’s disappointing that the WHO trial was shelved, the initial results are quite promising. The injections were effective in reducing the rate of pregnancy, and most of the men who didn’t drop out of the trial said that they’d continue using the drug if it became available.
Pills and injectables have both delivered encouraging results, but they haven’t been perfected yet. The use of hormones seems to be effective at reducing sperm count as a method for preventing pregnancy. Researchers may try different hormone levels and hormone types to find the mix that produces the best results with the fewest side effects. Other hormone delivery methods may be developed as well such as implants or gels. Scientists are also exploring ways to make the sperm weaker so that they are less likely to reach the egg for fertilization.
A new non-hormonal pill under research targets how the body processes vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to sterility, so by blocking a protein related to its processing this medication can make men sterile for 4-6 weeks without side effects (fertility then returns to normal). Another group of researchers is testing a contraceptive gel which men rub on their backs. It reduces sperm production while ensuring that men’s overall testosterone doesn’t drop.
Yet another option currently being explored for male birth control is nonsurgical vasectomy, which involves injecting a polymer gel into the vas deferens to block the sperm rather than cutting it. This procedure would be far easier to reverse than a traditional vasectomy.
Benefits of Male Birth Control
Men have much to gain from access to reliable, safe male contraceptives. It’s empowering to be able to make your own choices about your sexual and reproductive health, including when to become a parent or add to your family.
Male contraceptive options would also be a great option for heterosexual couples in which the woman is unable to take birth control due to certain health risks.
One of the most significant ways men can contribute to the development of male contraceptives is participating in research trials. This is an extremely useful way to help even the playing field for men and women when it comes to pregnancy prevention.
A guy who can’t participate in trials can use condoms or contribute to the costs of his partner’s birth control methods. Men who do not plan to have any additional children or who wish not to have children can look into getting a vasectomy.
Until a reliable male birth control is FDA-approved and stocked in pharmacies, the responsibility for pregnancy prevention still largely falls on the people who can get pregnant. If you or your partner is currently in need of birth control, consider using Nurx to get birth control prescribed online and delivered to your door.
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