Males Can Now Take Birth Control To Prevent Getting Their Partners Pregnant?

By Charlene Badasie | Published

male birth control

For decades, pregnancy prevention focused primarily on women with a range of pills, patches and implants widely available since the 1960s. Since then, the only medically approved form of contraception for men, short of vasectomy, is the condom. Now, researchers are looking into hormonal and non-hormonal male-focused birth control so that contraception becomes a shared responsibility for couples.

Speaking about the research into male birth control, an Endocrinologist at the University of Washington, Doctor Stephanie Page said, “We would like to create a menu of options for men similar to what women have available to them. Her lab is currently testing a gel as a possible new method for male family planning. Applied daily to the skin of the shoulders, the transparent substance aims to decrease a man’s sperm production in a reversible way without reducing sexual drive.

The gel contains synthetic hormones (a combination of testosterone and progestin) that signal the brain to lower testosterone levels in the body. And since testosterone is necessary for sperm to reach maturation, the testes then produce fewer and fewer sperm, the male birth control study finds. The trial, which includes research from 15 other sites across the globe, also examines men’s compliance and couple’s acceptance of this contraceptive method.

The male birth control trial is conducted in phases, with 450 participating couples around the world. Having the woman involved too means she’s also taking on consent since birth pregnancy prevention is a shared task, Doctor Pages tells NPR. During the first phase, the man applies the gel every day, but the couple still uses another form of contraception. Researchers also periodically monitor the man’s sperm count. Then when numbers are low enough to prevent pregnancy, the couple enters the second phase.

The man continues to use the gel daily, but other forms of contraception are stopped. The final phase sees the man stop using the gel entirely and researchers begin to monitor his sperm count once more. Researchers hope the results of the male birth control study will demonstrate that the effect on fertility is reversible, just as women can regain their fertility when they stop using birth control pills.

Brian Nguyen, an Ob-Gyn and Professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, who also researches male contraception says he’s encouraged by the study. He’s also pleased with the positive response from some of the men in the gel trial. Especially those who just want to support their female partners by exploring male birth control options.

“I hear stories about how men are tired of their partner suffering from hormonal side effects or complications related to IUDs or implants,” Nguyen, told NPR. “And they want to do something.” Interestingly, his lab is also working on a hormonal male birth control pill that would work much like the gel, while Doctor Page’s lab is hoping to develop a hormone solution that can be injected.

Fortunately, the gels and pills being tested don’t come with the same risks as previously explored male birth control options from the 1990s. “We have worked really hard to develop methods that don’t impact other physiologic parameters,” Doctor Page said. However, reported side effects include weight gain, changes in libido, and mood swings which are similar to those that women experience using hormonal contraceptives.