Male Contraceptive Pill
In an effort to develop new male-oriented alternatives to condoms and vasectomies, researchers from all over the world are working on ways to develop a variety of safe and reliable forms of the male oral contraceptive, similar to that of the female-exclusive birth control pill. It is anticipated that a contraceptive product for male users may become commercially available soon, possibly even in the next few years.
A Long Time Coming
The promise of a ‘male pill’ has been in and out of the headlines since the early 1970's but, to date, the potential remains unfulfilled. Part of the lack of progress has to do with a lack of trained clinicians in the specific field of male reproductive technology; the other part has to do with the fact that research is rather expensive. Also, after decades of trying to come up with an equitable version to the birth control pill for women, the results haven't been very successful - making pharmaceutical companies uneasy about the additional millions that could be needed to bring it to fruition.
Obstacles to Development
One of the major obstacles in developing a male contraceptive pill is the complicated biology involved in inhibiting a man's 'contribution' to conception. The female birth control pill - which boasts an almost 100% effectiveness rate when used as directed - uses hormones like estrogen and/or progesterone to inhibit the production of a mere single egg from being released every month.
In contrast, a ‘male pill’ would have to stops millions of Sperm from producing. This is an extraordinarily complex challenge in itself. However, when one factors in the high efficacy rate of the female pill (that the male version would have to compete with), together with the stringent safety requirements for contraceptives (even more-so than for other types of drugs), the complexity involved in creating a safe and highly effective product is compounded.
Currently, there are a number of male pill options being studied, the most notable a combination hormonal contraceptive method. This would involve synthetic hormones, used to block sperm production in men. Small rods releasing a form of hormone (normally found in the female birth control pill) would be implanted under the skin to prevent spermatogenesis. To balance out the additional female hormone, periodic testosterone supplements would be taken in conjunction (either by injection or orally) to balance male characteristics and maintain sex drive. Delivery of the female hormone in pill form is also being worked on.
Advantages of the Male Pill
- Gives men the freedom to prevent unwanted or unintended pregnancy, without having to rely on their partner to do so.
- Provides a potential secondary (backup) measure of prevention for use in conjunction some other primary method to reduce The Odds of Pregnancy.
- Serves as an alternative primary source of pregnancy protection to condoms when a couple is confident of each other’s health and there is minimal risk of STDs/STIs.
- Takes the physical burden off female users who suffer adverse side effects and health risks from the Female Pill.
Disadvantages of the Male Pill
- The science behind the male oral contraceptive is very new and there could be long term adverse health effects for males who take it. For example, will short or long term use affect a man's erections, sperm count, or his future ability to have children? How reversible are any complications?
- Could the use of a male contraceptive pill somehow affect a user's future offspring?
- As with most other forms birth control, the male pill would not protect against STDs/STIs. It is worried that condom usage may reduce because some who currently see its primary role as preventing conception, would no longer consider it necessary for STD/STIs.
- Sole or primary use would require implicit trust from the female to the male (as the woman is the one who ultimately gets pregnant). It sparks an interesting debate regarding who is in charge of contraception.
Statistics from the US Department of Health show that over one third of the three million pregnancies that occur every year in the US are unplanned or unintended. This statistic likely holds true for most developed countries. It is a compelling figure that has been driving scientists to create new alternatives for birth control.
Hopefully, one day soon, male users will have more freedom to help choose how they participate in Birth Control. But here's an interesting thought: will a reproductive technology that puts birth control solely in a man's hands change how men and women interact with each other?