Not trying to be a pill but… we could use it right about now.
You may have heard about clinical trials for new male birth control options a few years ago. You may also have heard that they’re frequently paused due to complaints of bloating, acne, and mood swings from the study participants.
Of course, this can be frustrating for women who have been taking birth control since their teens. After all, anyone who has used birth control options like the Pill or hormonal IUD knows that side effects are just part of the deal. Thankfully, the quest for new options for men continues.
Is Male Birth Control Ready Yet?
Historically, the burden of pregnancy prevention tends to fall on women. Menstruating humans have long dealt with birth control’s (and their menstrual cycle’s) side effects, including bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, weight gain, anxiety, and depression. There has even been occasional product recalls after they’ve caused blood clots, which can result in heart events or stroke.
The range of options for women offers sexual autonomy and reassurance to women. However, men who crave this same level of self-protection have fewer options. At this point, men who want equal responsibility in pregnancy prevention have had to rely on either condoms or the withdrawal method (which is known to be less effective). More life-altering options like vasectomies or abstinence wholly depend on one’s future desire to procreate or engage in physical intimacy at all.
New options for women pop up frequently, but men have not seen their options grow (except for new textures and flavors on condoms). To make it worse, many men complain of discomfort and a decrease in pleasure when using condoms. As for vasectomies, men may have valid fears about pain or permanent impotence, or infertility. (Notably, vasectomies are sometimes reversible. However, that surgery is complicated, more expensive, and not guaranteed to be successful.)
Breaking Down New Options for Men
The two main areas of research for new options for men are:
- Synthetic hormones, which would temporarily stop healthy sperm development
- Non-hormonal methods, which would prevent healthy sperm from reaching the vagina
One study in 2019 involved a potential male oral contraceptive. The pill worked by modifying testosterone with effects on androgen and progesterone. It passed human safety tests, and results showed decreased sperm production without lowering libido.
There are also two key non-hormonal options for male birth control. Both involve the tube that passes sperm through the penis called the vas deferens, which is the same tube that’s cut in vasectomies. Both options are completely reversible when a man is ready to have children.
- One option injects a non-toxic gel into the vas deferens. The gel blocks and kills sperm upon contact.
- Another option is the intra-vas device (IVD), which injects a "plug" into the vas deferens that filters out sperm.
The bad news?
These male birth control options sound promising. However, it might still take years before any of these options hit the market for use. Still, it’s clear men are getting closer and closer to having new, safe, and equitable birth control options.
- Kogan P, Wald M. Male contraception: history and development. Urol Clin North Am. 2014 Feb;41(1):145-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ucl.2013.08.012.
- Second potential male birth control pill passes human safety tests. Washington, D.C.: Endocrine Society, 2019. (Accessed on June 24, 2021)
- What’s the Deal with Male Birth Control? Portland, OR: Northwest Primary Care. (Accessed on June 24, 2021)
- Male contraception clinical trial launches in Sacramento. Sacramento, CA: UC Davis, 2020. (Accessed on June 24, 2021)
- Vasectomy. Bethesda, MD: MedlinePlus.gov, 2020. (Accessed on June 24, 2021)