Medically reviewed by Jenny Ingle Pappas, MSN, APRN, FNP-C on November 24, 2020
Since the advent of oral contraceptives in the 1960s, the burden of birth control has largely fallen on women. While the pill has undoubtedly given women control and freedom, some women experience unpleasant side effects on hormonal birth control. There are many women who feel that men should take more responsibility for preventing pregnancy. And there are plenty of men who’d like to take contraception into their own hands.
Studies for an injectable form of male birth control and a male contraceptive pill have shown promising results. Unfortunately, there’s no male birth control shot available yet, but there are a handful of other male birth control options.
Male Birth Control Research
Just because we don’t have a male birth control shot yet doesn’t mean people aren’t working on it. Over the years, researchers have attempted to develop both a male birth control pill and an injectable form of male birth control.
One team at the University of Washington came very close with a pill called dimethandrolone undecanoate. It was meant to work similarly to the female birth control pill. Unfortunately, the drug was shown to have some potentially dangerous side effects and caused some men to gain weight.
Unpleasant side effects also sidelined the male birth control shot being studied by the World Health Organization. The shot was administered every eight weeks and used testosterone and progestin to suppress sperm production. While the shot proved to be effective at reducing men’s sperm count and their fertility returned when they stopped receiving injections, when men began experiencing mood swings, acne, and pain at the injection site, they began dropping out of the trial.
The search isn’t over yet, though. This year, UC Davis Health announced a clinical trial to study a contraceptive gel for men, and nonsurgical vasectomies are also being studied. But until a new method becomes publicly available, men will have to rely on the few tried-and-true male birth control options.
Male Birth Control Options
While there is no birth control shot for men, there are a handful of other options to consider. Some are more effective than others, but all of them allow men to share the responsibility for preventing pregnancy.
Condoms are latex or plastic sheaths worn on the penis that a man must wear every time he has sex. With perfect use, condoms are up to 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. With typical use, they’re about 85 percent effective.
Condoms are generally cheap and readily available. When used correctly, they’re very effective for preventing sexually transmitted infections, and they’re non-hormonal, so there are no side effects. Of course, some people find that condoms impact sensation and intimacy, but every form of contraception has its trade-offs.
The Withdrawal Method
Also known as “pulling out” and “coitus interruptus,” withdrawal is when a man removes his penis from his partner before ejaculating. To use the method correctly, the man must withdraw completely from his partner’s vagina and ejaculate away from her genitals. With perfect use, the pull-out method is 96 percent effective (meaning that for every 100 people who say they use the method perfectly, 4 will get pregnant each year). With typical use, it’s about 78 percent effective — which means about 1 in 5 people who use it will get pregnant in a year.
Pull-out fans will point out that withdrawal is free and requires no prescription, no hormones, and no preparation. The biggest challenge is that effective withdrawal hinges on a man knowing he’s about to ejaculate and pulling out in time. There is limited evidence on whether sperm is present in pre-ejaculate and whether pre-cum can lead to pregnancy. It’s important to note that pulling out won’t protect you from STIs, and it requires a high level of trust.
A vasectomy is a form of sterilization intended to prevent a man from being able to reproduce. The procedure is low-risk, minimally invasive, and one of the most effective forms of birth control besides abstinence.
There are two different types of procedures: conventional and no-scalpel vasectomies. With a conventional vasectomy, a urologist makes a couple of small incisions in the scrotum. Then he cuts and seals the vas deferens (the tube that carries sperm to the urethra).
With a no-scalpel vasectomy, a urologist pokes a small hole in the scrotal sac instead of making an incision. This method is quicker, heals faster, and requires no stitches. The entire procedure takes about 15 minutes and can be done in a doctor’s office.
Vasectomies can be successfully reversed, with a success rate ranging from 30 to 90 percent. For this reason, vasectomies should be considered permanent and only undergone by men who don’t want biological children.
Even though there is no male birth control shot currently available, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be soon. Until then, there are several male birth control options that have been around for years. Discussing these options with your partner is the first step toward sharing the responsibility for contraception.