Male contraceptive pills

It’s 2022 — it’s about darn time we had some hormonal birth control for men! Sure, condoms are a great option for birth control because they are non-invasive, cheap and accessible, reversible, and one of the only types of contraception that protects against STDs, but we need more options. It doesn’t seem fair that people with uteruses have the burden of taking hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy when it also takes sperm to cause someone to get pregnant. Clinical trials for developing male contraceptive pills have been in the works for years, but a recent study makes this seem even more promising. 

Initial trials with the drugs DMAU and 11-beta MNTDC both seem promising. These drugs work similar to how hormonal birth control pills for women work – they suppress sex hormones to make you less fertile while you are taking them. Both of these drugs have similar properties to androgens, which are male sex hormones. They also are similar to progesterone, which is also a male sex hormone. Female birth control pills work by producing synthetic estrogen and progestin, which is a synthetic form of progesterone. Male birth control pills strive to do the same. 

How would male contraceptive pills work?

The goal of the male birth control pill isn’t to suppress fertility so much that men produce zero sperm when they ejaculate, but rather, the goal is to decrease the number of sperm in each ejaculation while on the pill. An ejaculation with fewer than 1 million sperm in it would create a similar effect to how female hormonal birth control works. 

What do recent studies show?

During the study, a group of men were given placebo pills, while another group was given either two pills or four pills per day for 28 days. The men’s testosterone levels were measured throughout the process, indicating if the sperm count was in fact being limited. During the trial, there were no adverse side effects, and the testosterone levels decreased as the doctors wanted. Because the half-life of sperm is about three months, men wanting to take either of these hormonal birth control pills would need to be on the pill for three months before it would be at its highest efficacy. This is very similar to female hormonal birth control, as most pills require you to be on them for one month before they are at full efficacy. 

More research is required, as this was just the first phase of these trials. Researchers hope to extend the length of time men are taking these pills to see if that changes the efficacy at all. This is great news, and a great step forward to providing more options for birth control and family planning, especially with the overturn of Roe v. Wade. 

How would we use male contraceptive pills?

Assuming the future trials are effective and hormonal birth control for men becomes a reality in the future, I would still recommend using two forms of birth control to prevent pregnancy. If I was in a monogamous relationship with a man who was on the pill, I would trust he was taking it as needed for preventing pregnancy, but I would not blindly trust that someone I was casually seeing was necessarily diligent in taking it. Similar to not trusting that someone will definitely have condoms if you go home with them at the end of a date. 

Having hormonal birth control available for men would be a game changer and would allow men to be active participants in their own family planning. It would also relieve some of the burden from women being the only ones ensuring they don’t get pregnant. Here’s to hoping the next phase of clinical trials is successful.

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