Birth control options for men, or those with testes, might be expanding in the near future. Scientists have long been exploring the possibility of the male birth control pill, and are closer than ever to getting this product to market.
What is the male birth control pill?
The male birth control pill is a new option for people with testes that comes in a format many are familiar with when it comes to contraceptives: a once daily pill. This medication blocks proteins from binding to vitamin A, which is crucial to fertility and virility in mammals. In clinical trials with mice, researchers found the drug 99% effective in preventing pregnancy with no apparent side effects.
The pill is considered non-hormonal, and works because the subject sees such a steep drop in sperm count they become sterile after four weeks of treatment. Better yet, scientists found when they stopped dosing the mice, the effects reversed: sperm counts returned to normal in four to six weeks.
The male birth control pill could mean more options and autonomy
When asked how the male birth control pill could change the contraceptive landscape, Dr. John Houman, medical director of Bastion Health and specialist in reproductive medicine, said the biggest impact will be “options.”
If you have testes, your options for protection against pregnancy are limited right now. You can opt for a condom, which provides a temporary barrier between sperm and egg, or you can get a vasectomy which, while an incredibly effective form of birth control, is an invasive surgical procedure. Male-identifying parties may feel like the responsibility to mitigate pregnancy risk falls entirely on their female partner, which can be frightening or unfair, particularly if you’re trying to take control of your sexual wellbeing.
“Currently the gold standard form of male contraception is a vasectomy procedure,” he tells O.school. “It is a generally safe procedure for men. However, a male birth control pill could add another option for patients who did not want to go vasectomy.”
While women and people with uteruses have a plethora of options when it comes to protection against pregnancy from the pill to using the IUD and beyond, the release of a male birth control pill means people with penises will have more choices when it comes to their sexual health.
Here’s what’s on the horizon
Gunda Georg, regents professor and head of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Minnesota, has been responsible for testing and development of the male birth control pill. The pill has shown so much promise that Your Choice Therapeutics has licensed the drug and submitted a request to the FDA that human clinical trials begin in the third or fourth quarter of 2022.
"The plan, at this point, is to have about 80 men participate," Georg says. "This is cutting-edge stuff, right, and if it works out, this could be huge."
Of course, Professor Georg anticipates kinks to arise when human trials are underway — concerns over whether men will even take a birth control pill have hampered research and development in the past. However, according the Georg, increased restrictions on abortions have made everyone more likely to open their minds to options.
“I think this comes at the right time,” she says.
Dr. Houman additionally cites side effects and efficacy as early concerns for him as the drug moves into phase one trials.
“Although early data on this is promising, longer-term studies with a much larger sample size is necessary before truly deciding whether this could ultimately help men in the long run,” he tells O.school.
The bottom line
As researchers zero in on a birth control pill for men, there’s a lot to be excited about, including the possibility of expanded choices when it comes to sexual wellbeing. But it’s still important to consider all your options when it comes to contraception, from side effects, to efficacy, to how it fits into your lifestyle. Take the time to do your research, and keep an open dialogue with your HCP when weighing birth control strategies.