Male Birth Control: More Options Soon?
March 25, 2016 -- There’s an old joke among contraceptive researchers: "Twenty years ago, the male contraceptive pill was just 10 years away.''
Despite many attempts over the years at developing a contraceptive for men, condoms -- or permanent vasectomy -- remain the only choices. But that may be changing, as researchers are studying a number of options for male birth control. Although none will be on the market right away, one or two might be available by 2018, some experts think.
What's Taking So Long?
Making a male contraceptive is challenging, experts agree.
Men's anatomy is complicated. Women ovulate once a month, but guy's sperm production is constant. "Men produce 1,000 sperm [or more] a second," says Mara Roth, MD, an endocrinologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, who researches male birth control.
And preventing the sperm from meeting an egg isn't easy. But "you don't need zero [sperm] to be effective,'' Roth says of male contraceptives. They only need to reduce a man’s sperm count low enough to prevent pregnancy.
Another challenge: They need to be reversible, just like women’s.
Side effects are another concern. Researchers in 2011 halted a test of hormonal contraceptive shots for men when side effects, including depression and other mood changes and increased libido, were higher than expected.
Funding is another obstacle. That’s true for many drugs.
What's in the Pipeline?
The methods being studied include options that use hormones and others that don't. They include:
Nestorone and testosterone gel: This treatment combines the hormone nestorone (a kind of progestin) with testosterone in a gel that men rub on their arms. "It suppresses the sperm output to very low," says Christina Wang, MD, professor of medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and the L.A. Biomedical Research Institute.
In a 6-month test on men, the combination suppressed sperm enough to prevent pregnancy in nearly 90% of them. That’s comparable to the pill for women, which is 91% effective at preventing pregnancy, according to the CDC.
The side effects are short term and few for the men, Wang says, ''because it is applied to the skin." Some men said they had acne or weight gain.