It’s been 56 years since the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive for women. The Pill is generally considered safe and effective (though like every drug, there are side effects), and a majority of American women now use some form of hormonal contraceptive to prevent pregnancy. Yet recently, researchers at the World Health Organization have begun to re-think the burden of responsibility that contraceptive measures place on women. They’ve published the first study examining a new hormonal birth control option for men, and their results are striking.
What did the study find?
Over 300 healthy, heterosexual couples participated in the year-long study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Male partners between the ages of 18 and 45 were given a shot containing a combination of progestogen and testosterone (the same hormones used in the Pill), once every eight weeks. The injections were extremely successful in reducing sperm count. What’s more, sperm reduction in men was found to be completely reversible after men stopped receiving the shots. Over the course of 56 weeks, only 4 couples became pregnant. This translates into the treatment being 98.5% effective in preventing pregnancy – a better effectiveness than the Pill! (While 99.9% of pregnancies are supposedly avoided when women take the Pill correctly and regularly, only about 91% of pregnancies are actually prevented.) And happily, each of the four babies born as a result of the study were healthy and normal, showing no adverse side effects for either parent or child.
When can men start using this contraceptive?
Despite the incredible effectiveness of this initial study, the experiment was cut short. A significant number of male participants reported complaints of “mild to moderate” mood swings – leading an external safety review committee to shut down the trial before its completion. This development has garnered major attention and outrage, especially from females who regularly experience alterations in mood (and other side effects like weight gain) due to the Pill. Unfortunately, it will likely take a while before male birth control options become readily available to all.
What does this mean for the future of male birth control?
Because men are constantly producing sperm, (unlike women who ovulate once a month), attempts at developing male birth control options have proven difficult.
However, this research may signal the beginning of a new trend to consider contraception from the male side of the story. For the many women and men alike who were disappointed by the early termination of this groundbreaking study, there’s hope! Of the study participants, 75% said they would use hormone injections as a contraceptive method in the future, were the treatment available to them. With this astounding level of satisfaction in mind, researchers are planning to fine-tune and try again. They’re first attempting to alter the hormone levels in the injections to find the safest and most effective dosage. They may also consider other forms of hormone administration, such as a tablet, an implant, or a gel.
All things considered, we shouldn’t give up hope yet – in the near future, men will be able to share the responsibility of family planning that women have been burdened with for the past 56 years.