The Male Contraceptive

The male contraceptive has often been a thorny subject for everyone on all sides of the debate; both for and against it. However, there’s a distinct lack of knowledge in the public eye around what it is, what’s currently available, and why we haven’t already found a mainstream solution.

Differences between male and female contraception

Although there’s a vast difference between the one-to-two eggs a month produced by women and the millions of sperm produced in the testes, the hormonal mechanisms around fertility in males and females are very similar. Amongst the sexes, hormones called progestins can tell the brain to stop producing the hormones responsible for egg and sperm production in the body.

What forms of male contraception are currently available?

Currently, the only forms of contraception for males are condoms, withdrawal (not recommended by professionals) and vasectomy. Although small studies using female contraceptives combined with testosterone replacement products have shown promising results, the rate at which the testosterone products leave the system makes the idea of a pill-a-day promise very difficult. As well, female hormonal pills can be ingested orally but the testosterone replacements currently cannot be. At the moment, the best options to rebalance the hormonal combination in the male bodies come as gels, injections and implanted pellets.

Controversy and clinical studies

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed super promising results for a male contraceptive. Of the 320 participants, 95.9 of 100 continuing users experienced a suppressed sperm concentration. Overall, the contraceptive was 96% effective at preventing pregnancy. Despite these promising results, the study was discontinued early by an independent committee who claimed that the side effects of mood changes, depression, pain around the injection area and increased libido were such that “the risks to the study participants outweighed the potential benefits.”

Many articles and blog pieces sprung up online immediately comparing those ‘harmful’ side-effects to those already caused by female contraceptives since their conception. “Yes, contraceptives have side effects – and it’s time for men to put up with them too” said The UK Independent newspaper. Many outlets demanded that males be subjected to the same side-effects as females on a contraceptive devised in the 1960s while others had more noble reasons for suggesting a tolerance of the side effects. Some media organisations debated that a shared understanding of the effects of the medication could bring couples closer and give both sides a better appreciation of what goes into maintaining a baby-free life.

Is there an interest in a male “pill”?

A 2005 study found that more than half of 9,000 men from across the world were keen towards using a male hormonal contraceptive. In 2011, Susan Walker at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford published a study of 54 men in an unnamed town in England. Twenty-six of them said they would take it. “They were not concerned about losing fertility – as long as they could be sure of regaining it,” Walker stresses.

The remainder of the study had objections based on gender-norms they’d grown up with. “I’m so used to women taking the pill.” While others were concerned with the long-term side-effects of the taking the medication in terms of fertility and health later down the line.

Overall, there is a serious and significant demand for the male contraceptive to be introduced to the world but, although the same side effects are currently present in female contraceptive pills also, the prolonged harmful effects on the male body have left a lot of people wondering if the current approach is correct or whether we should withdraw both oral contraceptives in anticipation of a side-effect-free alternative.