New breakthroughs with the male contraceptive pill

Male contraceptive pillCC: Warren Wong at Unsplash

With a history that stems back over hundreds of years, the burden of contraceptives has primarily fallen with women. More recently, a male contraceptive pill has been trialled. This week, the German researchers creating the pill announced that there now appears to be no significant side-effects. However, men are still around a decade away from being able to use it.

What is the male contraceptive pill?

Much like the female contraceptive pill, the male contraceptive pill is taken once a day. It uses a type of progesterone that blocks Lutenizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). As a result, the man who takes it will produce less sperm.

One of the least desirable side effects of the male contraceptive pill was a subsequent drop in testosterone levels. Understandably, few men wanted to elect for such side-effects and so the researchers needed to offset them. The modified version of the pill now includes androgens that will prevent this from happening.

How successful has the development been so far?

Although significant progress has been made with the male contraceptive pill, there are still some side effects. Some of these side effects are far from spectacular and are in-line with what women can expect with the female contraceptive pill. For example, acne and headaches. However, others are likely to affect the user’s quality of life significantly. For example, erectile dysfunction and reduced libido.

In recent months, the male contraceptive pill’s developers have analyzed the progress of research subjects over a one-month period. They confirmed that there was a significant reduction in their sperm count, but they now need to repeat the results. Additionally, they need to determine whether the reduction in sperm count is significant enough to prevent pregnancies.

Why is a male contraceptive pill needed?

Although the onus to prevent pregnancy has traditionally fallen with women, this doesn’t hand over a great deal of control to men. Those who aren’t in established relationships may feel reassured by having a male contraceptive pill they take each day. Other forms of contraceptives for men are either not-entirely reliable or they’re too permanent. For example, a man who has a vasectomy will struggle to effectively reverse the decision. Additionally, there’s a six-month grace period between the operation and confirmation that it was successful.

Another alternative to the male contraceptive pill is condoms, although they’re far less effective in real life settings compared to lab environments. According to Planned Parenthood, condoms are around 85% effective. That’s a significant drop in efficacy compared to the 98% claim made by manufacturers.

Until further tests are carried out to confirm efficacy and safety, we may need to wait a while for the male contraceptive pill to become public. However, the latest results are certainly promising.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.