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  • Writer's pictureShruti GOCHHWAL

Does a Safe Male Birth Control Pill Exist?

When it comes to birth control, the mind of an average individual more often than not wanders towards the direction of the variety of contraceptive methods that are available for women. In the past few decades, there have not been many changes in the male birth control options that will help men to take control over their reproductive future.

However, in recent years, men are also feeling eager to take on hormonal birth control. They are not satisfied by the limited range of options in the form of a condom and a vasectomy that are available to them. The male birth control methods have been a subject of study since the early 1970s. However, till now there has been no major headway on this front. By and large, it is only women that have greater freedom in the form of a plethora of birth control options that are available to them. Hence, it is observed that it is primarily women who are responsible for planning and carrying out methods of contraception during sexual intercourse.

Male Birth Control Pill – What the Research Says

male birth control

Doctor giving pills, Credit: Pixabay

So what is the current research scenario on the burning question of ‘Is there birth control for guys?’ Male contraception is a field where different research projects are ongoing. Currently, the prospects for the future look promising. However, it can be safe to say that an effective method of male contraception is more than a few years away. Presently, the research is focussing on two major areas of male birth control. They are:

  1. Hormonal contraception

  2. Non-hormonal methods

Hormonal Contraception

  1. Oral birth control pills

  2. Topical gels

  3. Male birth control pill injection

1.    Oral birth control pills

Sperm cells are constantly being produced in the testicles of fertile men. It is because of the presence of the hormone testosterone. The experiments carried out in the medical arena regarding male hormonal contraception aim to determine whether there is a way of blocking the testosterone effects. This will stop testicles from creating sperm cells. But there is a major challenge that researchers are facing. Testosterone levels need to be lowered in such a way that it does not lead to unwanted side-effects in men like loss of sexual desire.

A probable way of accomplishing male hormonal contraception is by giving men a synthetic testosterone. This synthetic version of testosterone is administered with the hormone progestogen. You might wonder what the role of the hormone progestogen is? Well, just like testosterone, progestogens are synthetic versions of the female sex hormone that are present in many hormonal contraceptives used by them. You might have heard about progestogen-only pills for women.

The progestogen-only pill does not contain oestrogen. By thickening the mucous in the cervix of a woman, it stops the sperm from reaching the egg. This synthetic testosterone approach prevents the testicles from creating testosterone and thus blocks the production of normal and healthy sperms. It also maintains the testosterone levels in the blood and prevents men from experiencing the side-effects mentioned above.

This oral birth control method has been developed by a combination of testosterone and progestogen in a pill. What happens if a male takes the pill?  It is an effective method of male birth control. However, it does not affect the production of sperms in men that can anytime cause a pregnancy in women. The reason for this is still not clear and hence, it has not been deemed as a one-stop method for stopping the pregnancy from occurring.

2.    Topical gels

In recent years, the research has focussed on a new way of male hormonal birth control method. It has led to the development of a topical gel that combines testosterone and progestins. Progestins are the synthetic forms of the hormone progesterone that occurs naturally in the body. It is a reversible drug with very mild side effects. In fact, in a study, more than 80 percent of people accepted this birth control method and were willing to use it as a form of birth control when it becomes available in the market. As of now, the topical gels treatment has passed human safety tests as well as clinical trials.

3.    Male birth control pill injection

The aim of male hormonal birth control focuses on blocking the formation of sperms through the usage of an Androgen hormone. The preferred option for this androgen hormone is testosterone. It is because it enables the body to create semen without sperm and does not cause fertility.

However, if testosterone is consumed in the pill form, it is washed away from the body. Thus, it cannot drop the sperm to the levels that are enough to eliminate the pregnancy risk. When testosterone is injected into the body, it cannot be washed away easily. Hence, it lasts for a long time. At the same time, it also raises the testosterone levels in the whole body which can cause liver toxicity over a long period of time.

Non-Hormonal Contraception

male birth control

Man in a hospital, Credit: Pixabay

The non-hormonal methods of contraception basically center around the vas deferens. It is a tube that the sperms go through to reach the penis. When a man chooses a vasectomy, this tube is removed.

One of the methods that is developed around this approach is called reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (RISUG). As part of this method, a non-toxic synthetic chemical is transmitted into the vas deferens. This chemical blocks the it and kills the sperm on coming in contact with it. This chemical remains inside the vas deferens of the man and can be washed out only when he decides that he wants to raise a family.

Another method of male birth control focuses on the epididymis. The function of this tube that rests behind the testicles is to enable sperms to mature normally and thus keep men fertile. There have been efforts to intervene with the working of epididymis. However, it does not seem to be as successful as an effective method for male contraception.

A New Birth Control Option ?

male birth control

Person holding a medicine, Credit: Pixabay

We all know that the prevalent male birth control options like abstinence, condoms, and vasectomy may not appeal to all. According to UTSouthwestern medical center, a new male birth control pill called dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU) has now given hope to men looking for less permanent contraception options.

According to a study published in ‘The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism’, 82 men between the ages of 18-50 were given three doses of this pill for 28 days. Those men who were administered the highest dosage, about 400 mg had lower levels of testosterone  in their body. But the study did not measure the number of sperms.

The side effects of this pill were mild and men found no problem with facing effects like headaches, tiredness, and a slight weight gain. Currently, there is a need to conduct longer trials to find out whether this pill is efficient to block the sperm production completely. At the same time, there is also a need to find out about the pill’s long term effects on the man’s body. It may be possible that men may have to deal with issues like depression or the risk of developing blood clots. We will also need to find out if the pill has the potential to damage kidney and liver functioning over a period of time.

In the end, it is safe to say that despite the absence of a safe, effective, and reversible male birth control option available for men, the medical community is optimistic about the future. Much headway has been made in this area and a viable solution is only a few years away.

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