Birth Control for Men: Coming Soon?


Safe,
convenient, reversible contraception allows women and men worldwide
to plan their families and ensure that they are ready to nurture and
provide for the children they parent. So why are so few male contraceptive
methods available?

In
America, 62
million women
are
of childbearing age; worldwide, the number is around 1.5 billion.  In the US, when these women
get pregnant, half of their pregnancies will be unplanned
and 42% of these end in abortion. Approximately 40% percent of pregnancies worldwide are
unintended.  Globally, about half of all abortions are considered unsafe
and more than 75% occur in developing countries. 
In order to reduce the number of unsafe abortions worldwide, and to
equip individuals with tools they need to take control of their reproductive
lives, we need to ensure the availability of reversible, effective birth
control solutions with minor side effects for both men and women. 

While
only two male contraceptive options (vasectomy and condoms) are available,
they are both widely used, making it clear that men are willing to accept
responsibility for birth control.  In fact, one study assessed
the responsiveness of men from four continents and nine countries to
the possibility of "male fertility control," and found that on average
more than half of those surveyed were willing to
use such a method.  The legal responsibility associated with fathering
a child is also motivating men to take control of their reproductive
fate.   

Around two-thirds of women in their reproductive years
are sexually active with no intent of getting pregnant, and a typical
woman in America uses contraceptives for around three decades of her life to avoid pregnancy. 
And yet the most popular forms of contraceptives – female hormonal birth
control and the condom barrier method – are not failsafe. One study
found that "traditional" usage of these two methods resulted in
an 8%
and 15%
failure
rate, respectively.  In another study where pill usage was monitored
by both an electronic device and the woman herself, inconsistencies
between the two records highlighted the unreliability of daily birth
control usage.   The women reported proper pill usage 53-59% of the time, while the device reported
an accurate value of 19-33%.  A birth control method that
relies on the user to either administer daily dosages or use at the
time of need is not foolproof.  

Additionally,
current female hormonal contraceptive methods act systemically, and
carry with them many
side effects
, including
nausea, headaches, weight gain, depression, loss of libido, as well
as menstrual problems.  "New" birth control methods often simply
mean a lowered
or altered dosage

of estrogen and progestins, respectively, or a method, like the NuvaRing,
that does not require oral and daily administration.  Given that
the female birth control pill was introduced nearly 50 years ago, it
is an embarrassment to the scientific community that there remain so
few alternatives to hormone-based therapies.

In
a society which strives for equal opportunities for both men and women,
responsibility for birth control should not fall solely on women, nor
should we be content with birth control options currently available
to women.  The idea of a male contraceptive method has been discussed
for decades, and articles appearing in mainstream media frequently promise
a male birth control pill in pharmacies in the near future.  Unfortunately,
a lack of funding and interest from pharmaceutical companies has delayed
progress in this field.  Most private industries are no longer
interested in funding male contraceptive research, for multiple reasons,
including a complicated
FDA approval
process
due to lack
of previous experience

with male birth control, reduced
insurance coverage

of contraceptives in general, and a high
development cost

for a product that would be ideally of low
purchase cost
,
especially in developing countries.  This leaves the public sector
as the sole source of funding, which comes with it both budget and experimental
constraints.  But despite this shortage of financial support, many
innovative scientists around the world are working to make male contraception
a reality. 

In
order to develop a male contraceptive, we must first understand what
is needed for proper male fertility, so that we can suppress or block
that function.  While 50% of infertility in couples is male factor,
a recent study of infertile men attributed infertility to low sperm motility and low
sperm count

Identification of a molecule that is required for male fertility can
facilitate contraceptive development, but may also help in treating
individuals struggling with infertility.

Successful
fertilization is a complicated, evolutionarily fine-tuned event, which,
on a basic level, requires the fusion of a sperm and egg.  Female
hormonal contraceptive methods block egg production.  There are
three biological mechanisms to impede male fertility:

  • Arresting sperm
    production
  • Blocking sperm from
    entering the female reproductive tract
  • Interfering in sperm-egg
    binding

 

In
this article series I will explain the scientific technologies behind
the current global male contraceptive research efforts, describing what
is in the pipeline in terms of both hormonal and non-hormonal contraceptive
approaches.  I will divide these technologies in three categories
based upon the mechanisms described above.  New approaches should
offer clear advantages over existing methods, for example, hormonal
methods that deliver progesterone and testosterone to block sperm production
in men.  Non-hormonal methods offer the benefit of a targeted and
therefore effective approach, including those methods that block sperm
from passing through the vas deferens, as well as heat and ultrasound
approaches that arrest sperm production. 

Ideally, a male contraceptive
would be effective, reversible, with few side effects.  When it
is, not only will we have secured a victory for equality of the sexes,
we will offer couples worldwide a new method for ensuring that they
are able to choose parenthood when they are ready. 

Stay tuned for more articles from Soumya Vemuganti about latest research on contraceptive methods for men.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Soumya Vemuganti please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    ……a Visible Demand.

    That is, men may respond positively when pollsters come knocking, but as far as profit-minded Big Pharma is concerned, that’s not half as convincing as the sight of men who take the trouble and initiative to go on TV and say “yes, we want these new methods and will pay out of pocket if necessary!”

    There are those who argue that if men haven’t been doing this, it’s because to do so would eventually raise the politically incorrect subject of WOMEN who lie about being on the Pill. However, it seems to me that the current economic crisis would provide a perfect excuse for the average man to say, simply and tactfully: “My wife and I can’t afford more children right now! We must have more contraceptive backups that I can use!”

    Yet we don’t see this happening. Why not, I ask?

    Until we do, Big Pharma has every reason to believe that the male birth control industry just won’t be profitable – and/or that most consumers will be those men whose wives and girlfriends nag them to use the new methods. Not promising.

    • invalid-0

      Hi! i am a 23 yr old male! I strongly believe that an overhelming number of men would not only be willing to use but to support the idea of a better, newer contriceptive. I don’t see why a company would think they would not profit from this greatly.

      • invalid-0

        Not only that but men may see a much happier woman in their lives without the extra hormones. I think people forget that birth control for women is very mood altering and has a lot of physiological effects. I personally would never take it because I always felt so miserable the times I did try it. In the end my husband had a vasectomy so that I didn’t end up having to have a tubal ligation. It took him one day to heal and he was back to normal. I would have ended up recovering for six weeks.

  • invalid-0

    bad idea. Especially where somewhat casual sex is concerned. Women are much more likely to take steps to prevent contraception than men in casual relationships. Can you imagine how unplanned pregnancies would skyrocket? If people in a committed relationship want to use male birth control fine, but how are you going to make sure young men use it when they can/ sometimes do just walk away. Pro life or pro choice I’m sure everyone recognises that there are consequences for young women who get pregnant. You can’t expect young men in casual relationships to take birth control equally seriously. I’m not saying they shouldn’t. I saying too many of them won’t. If a young woman, unprepared to get pregnant is going to be sexually active it would be foolish to encourage her to hand all responsibility to her partner who is not the one risking pregnancy.

    • invalid-0

      The idea that monogamous couples and individuals with healthy and intelligent open sex-lives should be punished because there are people out there having unprotected sex with people they can’t even trust with something as simple yet vital as birth control is asinine.

      Couples and singles who would be smart enough to use something like this responsibly shouldn’t be denied more intelligent means of family planning because some men or women ‘might lie.’

      Not to mention that that’s a terribly sexist view that paints men as conniving foxes and women as helpless, naive victims without the wits to manage their own birth control or choose partners whom they trust.

    • invalid-0

      I disagree. Not all men are irresponsible. I think that birth control for men is a great idea especially if it’s used along with birth control for women + the use of condoms. That would almost eliminate all possibilities of a woman getting pregnant. Taylor from whey protein weight gain

  • invalid-0

    I would take a male birth control pill or the like if they ever make one. I agree with the comment about young males not taking birth control seriously, but many do, male birth control is a great idea.

    This economic stimulus package was just stripped of the provision for medicaid funded contraceptives for women so we obviously have a long way to go before pharmaceutical companies even think about male contraceptive research.

    But I would take it, I know many men that would, and I think it is a great idea, because what male would say he likes condoms? My guess if affordable and effective more young males would take male birth control pills. Because in this ever changing society we’ve got here more young men are becoming aware and taking responsibility for sexual health and pregnancies.

    Though many do not, but that is a bigger issue than just the idea of male contraceptives.

  • http://emprestimoseguro.com/ invalid-0

    Another danger is that people start using less condoms and that the sexually transmitted diseases skyrocket. Having said that I think that it is a good step to take because it can give more responsibilities to men. I am looking forward for the rest of the articles you will write!

  • invalid-0

    You show yourself to be a thoughtful and responsible man. If only there were more like you!

  • invalid-0

    From a personal point of view, my wife is a chronic asthmatic. She has a ventolin inhaler, and symbicort inhaler. When the weather gets cold, she needs additional medicine for that. She also has a family history of high blood pressure, which means more medication later on.

    She is also on the pill, as we don’t enjoy sex with condoms.

    I take NO medication.

    If I could take a contraceptive, I would, without a doubt. I think my wife is on far too much medication.

    Andrew

  • soumya-vemuganti

    Your concern is valid.  Barrier methods are still the most effective in preventing STD transmission.  However, it would be advantageous to diversify contraceptive options for those individuals in monogamous relationships.  Along with transferring responsibility over to men, the hope is that a new male contraceptive would not carry with it the same undesirable side effects found with female hormonal contraceptive approaches.  With modern scientific knowledge we should be able to develop a contraceptive using a targeted approach as opposed to a systemic approach, thereby reducing side effects.  Of course, that is the ideal situation.   

     

    Thank you for your interest!

  • soumya-vemuganti

    Half of all pregnancies are unplanned with current contraceptive options.  Both men and women can be irresponsible with their contraceptive use. 
    Giving more contraceptive options to men can only help to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies. 

  • invalid-0

    right now, nor am I ready for one. I would love to have access to male birth control that would only add one more layer of protection against unplanned pregnancy. Mark me down as one average man ready and willing to buy and use a male birth control pill.

  • invalid-0

    it’s not like female centered birth control would go away. it would just take what is now, say, and 8% chance of unplanned pregnancy resulting from a casual sex encounter, and take it down another couple of percentage points. the more layers of protection you have, the better, to be quite honest. at least with male birth control, he can have come responsibility for himself, rather than the current method of basically handing all responsibility to his partner.

    personally, i’d still stay on my current pill even if male birth control were available, whether or not i was part of a couple or single.

  • invalid-0

    There has been much data published in the recent years describing the link between hormone based therapies and cancer. In women, several studies have found that those who used oral contraceptives for a long period of time were at a higher risk for developing endometrial, breast, and ovarian cancer (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/oral-contraceptives). Here’s hoping that new contraceptive research (both male and female) will be non-hormonal based.
    This is a very stimulating article and I look forward to rest of your articles

    • invalid-0

      Hormones are definitely not the way to go, imho. They polute our bodies, our water, our environment and have a significant impact that very few ever talk about.

      I didn’t see in either of these two articles a mention of RISUG, which is what I REALLY want to see successfully tested. Reversible birth control that isn’t designed to fork over a check to big pharma every month, yes please.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks for bringing this conversation to a public forum. I carried an unintended pregnancy to term and I am a better person for it. However, we can only afford one child and it would be wonderful to have another layer of protection against a second “surprise”! I look forward to continuing this dialogue in the future!

  • http://www.starthealthyeating.cn invalid-0

    A few month ago I have read in a science report (sorry didn´t made a bookmark) that it is much easier to control one egg then millions of sperms. But generally in time of equality I welcome the possibility for men to take an active part by helping their female partners to prevent pregnancy.

  • alison-ojanengoldsmith

    Great post!  I blogged about this topic last summer(see link below) and I’m glad to see more and more advocates taking on this issue.  This is about reproductive justice.  Just like women, men deserve more birth control methods to control their  fertility and become more active family-planners, to decide when and with whom to become a parent.  We can advocate for men’s choices and responsibility without demonizing women’s choices and responsibility.This is an opportunity to reach out to men and gain support for reproductive health and rights for all.  Bravo, Soumya!

    My post:  http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2008/09/12/male-birth-control-seeds-revolution

  • soumya-vemuganti

    Thanks for bringing up RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance), which does not work by stopping sperm production.  RISUG is not hormonal and even more exciting, is in phase III clinical trials.  I plan to discuss this exciting birth control option and how it works in my next article.

    Please stay tuned!   

  • http://www.lipodrenedietpill.com invalid-0

    From a purely male perspective…There are time a guy will say whatever it takes. Do you really want to trust the male sex drive to tell you the truth as to whether he has actually taken a pill?

    I agree men should take greater responsiblity,it is about time.

    I think its a great idea, but not convinced of the practical application of a male birth control

  • invalid-0

    i want it when an where can i get some, men should be doing their part 2

  • invalid-0

    I would definitely take it. I am a male and I still would use a condom and have my girlfriend on her birth control. For me it would be a back up for times when condoms break (I’ve had it happen. Its better to be overly protected than not protected at all. Get this pill or shot or something on the market now. Women can keep taking there birth control to be safe also it’s not like they would just stop but this way guys don’t have to worry about thre girlfriend or other forgetting to take a pill or something.

  • invalid-0

    Hilarious commentary here:

    http://www.glennsacks.com/do_women_really.htm

    Excerpt:

    “The male birth control pill will shift much of that control [of reproduction] from women to men. Is the following conversation far away?

    Woman #1: ‘My [husband, boyfriend, significant other] is selfish. He’s on the pill and won’t get off. I’ve asked him to stop taking it but he always says he’s not ready. He just won’t grow up. I don’t know what to do.’

    Woman #2: ‘That’s what the pill has given men—a right to be perpetual adolescents. It’s given them veto power over women who want to have children.’ “

  • invalid-0

    This is what makes me piss off. Why do women always have to take the hit… they are ready to sacrifice their tubes and go for ligation, pop chemical pills ignoring their health while men would do nothing but enjoy in “the cave” and watch football over a beer… It’s time for men to be responsible too. Robert from chemotherapy