New Male Birth-Control Options May Be on the Way
April 17, 2000 -- Although it may be 10-15 years before a male "birth
control pill" is ready for the market, researchers are testing several
promising types of hormonal contraceptives for men. Not only could these
methods be effective for birth control, researchers say, some might offer
protection from some types of cancer and even help to reduce baldness.
"Available options for contraception in the male are limited to
vasectomy and condoms; for a lot of men those options are not very
attractive," says John Amory, MD, who reviewed the recent research for an
article in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.
"Vasectomy is difficult to reverse, and condoms are not 100% effective. A
hormonal contraceptive would be reversible, and it would be much more effective
than condoms." Amory is acting instructor of medicine at the University of
Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.
"At long last, it does look like we may be getting somewhere on hormonal
contraceptive methods for men," says David Baird, MD, who reviewed the
article for WebMD. Baird is a professor at the Center for Reproductive Biology
at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. If a male pill or shot is
developed, he says, "not everyone will want to use it. [But] it will give
people a wider choice."
Apparently, many men would be interested in using hormonal contraceptives if
they were available. The Edinburgh center recently conducted a large survey of
men's attitudes on this issue; the same questions were asked in Edinburgh and
in South Africa, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. "About 90% of men thought a male
hormonal contraceptive was a good idea," Baird says. "About 60-70% said
if it was available now, they would use it sometime within the next
Female birth-control pills have other uses aside from contraception, Amory
notes. He believes that a pill for men could have similar benefits.
"Potentially, the male pill could reduce the risk of prostate cancer and
testicular cancer," he says. "Depending on the specific makeup of the
medication, it might reduce acne, benign [enlarged prostate], and male pattern
One approach that has been tested uses the hormone testosterone by itself,
injected once a week or once a month. This suppresses sperm counts, but the
effect varies, so a small percentage of men remain fertile. For unexplained
reasons, testosterone alone appears to be more effective in Asian men than in
men studied in the U.S., Europe, and Australia.
"The Chinese are interested in this approach and likely to be the first
to introduce it on a non-experimental basis, using longer-acting testosterone
that can be injected once a month," Amory says.
The most promising hormonal approaches for non-Asian men combine
testosterone with another substance to enhance its effect. One possibility is
combining testosterone with a chemical called gonadotropin-releasing hormone
antagonists, which block another type of hormone involved in sperm production.
But these chemicals are expensive and must be injected under the skin.