As technology continues to advance, new breakthroughs emerge nearly every day. One such recent breakthrough lies in the contraceptive field.
For thousands of years, condoms were the most popular variant of birth control that males could use during intercourse. Save minor aesthetical tweaks, not much was done about improving this technology until around 70 years ago when birth right activist Margaret Sanger paired with scientist Gregory Pincus to create the first birth control pill. They sank $150,000 into research for the development of this drug in the 1950s, and finally, after years of struggle, the pill was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960. However, this revolutionary drug only worked on females, and while there was considerable effort to replicate a male variant of the pill, the drug’s success unintentionally left a shadow over the development of male contraceptives, leaving men completely out of the narrative for the next 50 years.
It was only recently in 2005, when the National Institute of Health revived hopes of creating a male contraceptive, innovating a contraceptive gel that is more commonly known today as Spermicide. This gel was to be applied to one’s shoulder once every day, delivering progestin to the testes in order to lower the production of testosterone. In many cases however, this gel completely shut down hormone production and led to a lack of libido (sex drive) in users. Hence, the goal from then was to find a middle ground. This task has proven easier said than done because of the possible risks of ingesting harmful chemicals. “Unlike, say, cancer patients who are willing to tolerate side effect because of the alternative (dying), we’re treating healthy individuals so we can’t disrupt or do something that would be permanent or damaging.” This statement from Diana Blithe of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development expresses the challenge that physicians like her face—the challenge that holds back the development of a male contraceptive.
More hopefully however, researchers from Washington University presented results of a trial they conducted at ENDO 19 (Endocrine Society 2019) on March 24th. The trial involved 40 men, 10 of which received placebo pills while the remaining 30 received capsules containing the drug 11-beta-MTDNC. The purpose of this chemical was to reduce hormones needed for sperm production in men. Subjects took one pill daily for one month with the intent of testing the safety of the chemical. Researchers reported that the pill worked “greatly” and that “there were no serious adverse events or significant clinical concerns” (LaBioMed 2019). All 30 men who took the pill passed all safety tests. And while 22 of them reported mild side effects such as fatigue and decreased sex drive, no participants stopped taking the pill as a result of these effects.
However, even with the promising results that this drug shows, no success comes without its doubts. Dr. Paul Turek admits that he is excited about this new development but questions the effectiveness of the actual reduction in sperm count. “They do not show any effect on sperm,” he said. “We have no idea whether sperm will actually drop. And it needs to drop to zero” (The Mancunion 2019). Moreover, the drug could take months before its full effects set in. The technicalities combined with the length of drug trials leave scientists to estimate that a fully functional male contraceptive pill will not hit markets for another decade or so.
Although research in this field is very much in its infancy, the journey to closing the contraceptive gap between males and females is finally gaining more traction. With estimates that around 40% of all pregnancies are unplanned, the development of contraceptives will offer males more options to control their reproductive lives.
Article by Joni Makinen
Ellagerry. “Male Contraception: Where Are We Now?” The Mancunion. Manchester Media Group. 1 April 2019. Web. 10 Apr 2019. https://mancunion.com/2019/04/01/male-contraception-where-are-we-now/
Ganesan, Rajeshwari. “Presenting ‘The Pill’, Now For Men”. Dailyo. Dailyo. 1 April 2019. Web. 10 April 2019.
Thompson, Kirsten. “A Brief History of Birth Control in the U.S.” OurBodiesOurSelves. Google Sites. 14 December 2013. Web. 10 April 2019. https://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book-excerpts/health-article/a-brief-history-of-birth-control/