Long Dreamed Of, A Birth Control Pill For Men Could
October 27, 2003
By Louis Wittig - eCureMe Staff Writer
Physician Reviewed - October 24,2003
It’s perhaps the most anticipated sequel in the
history of birth control. Over 40 years ago the
FDA approved the country’s first oral contraceptive
for women, and in reducing the risk of pregnancy, helped
give rise to the free love sixties and swinging seventies.
But decades later, at least 3 million women find themselves
unexpectedly pregnant. Trying to help reduce shocks like
these, scientists have been looking for the holy grail of
birth control: a pill for men. Recent research suggests
they might be getting close.
Results from a study conducted with 55 male volunteers in
Australia has shown that when injected with a certain kind
of hormone cocktail, men’s sperm count - as well their
ability to get their partner pregnant - drops to zero.
Are Two Pills Better Than One?
When it comes to protecting themselves, men already have a
number of options; they can wear condoms, use spermicide,
withdraw before they ejaculate or even, if they’re really
serious, go for a vasectomy. The trouble is most men aren’t
nterested in the methods that are most effective.
Condoms are the most popular choice for men under 34,
but can have a failure rate as high as 11% - higher if
they’re worn or lubricated improperly. Add to that the
fact that half of men feel condoms are too difficult
to use, and over three-quarters feel condoms affect
their sexual performance. Using spermicidal alone can
yield to failure rates as high as 50% and the withdrawal
method is more or less a shot in the dark. Vasectomies
are ironclad - but they’re also tricky to reverse: very
few men under 30 venture to get one.
This leaves all of a couple’s very vulnerable eggs in
one basket - the woman’s. With most of the responsibility
for preventing pregnancy resting on the female partner,
it’s not surprising that many want their men to share the
responsibility. A 1997 Kaiser Family Foundation survey
noted that 71% of women wish their partners were more
involved with choosing and using birth control.
Surprisingly, most men - 67% - agreed, wishing they were
more involved. Two thirds indicated they would jump at
the chance to try a male pill, if one were offered.
Demand and Supply
Finding men to take an oral contraceptive isn’t problem;
finding out how to make one has been.
But all over the world men have been trying. In Indonesia,
men often drink a special herbal tea before sex, believing
it can head off potential pregnancy. Similar claims have
been made about a common plant extract. Known to
indigenous peoples from Brazil to Africa, gossypol is a
yellow pigment that can be squeezed from the roots and
seeds of cotton plants. When ingested, the active chemical
eats away at tubules in the sperm-generating testicles,
leaving the male infertile. In most cases it’s temporary,
but a Brazilian study conducted in 2000 revealed that 20%
of men who lose their fertility to gossypol don’t ever
get it back. Ever more creative, Chinese inventors have
developed a small electronic device that, when slipped
inside a man’s boxer shorts, delivers an electrical current
that renders the wearer sterile for up to a month.
The Western medical establishment has been experimenting
with some equally odd methods Scientists have tried to
create sperm that are ’blind’; that is, sperm that can’t
tell an egg from a uterus wall. They’ve also isolated a
protein that effects how well the sperm swims. If they can
mutate it, they can effectively cripple the sperm and keep
it from swimming to meet the egg.
Until scientists figure out how to effectively handicap
individual sperm cells, the best hope for a male pill
seems to be hormonal.
The testicles have two roles within the male body; one is
to produce sperm, the other is to produce testosterone.
Research has found that if a certain amount of testosterone
can be injected into a man’s bloodstream, his body will be
tricked into thinking it has produced enough of the hormone
and will idle both testosterone and sperm production.
However, research has also shown there to be significant,
negative side effects associated with injecting men with
Not Coming to a Pharmacy Near You
There is a way around it though, according to the recently
concluded Australian study. Scientists involved in that
study used a combination of hormones; to testosterone they
added progestin - a female hormone. During the study
testosterone was implanted under the volunteers’ skin and
periodic injections of progestin followed it up. Progestin,
found in female birth control pills, suppressed the sperm
production. But used alone it would upset men’s hormonal
balance and the effect on sperm production might be permanent;
the testosterone supplements served to keep the balance.
For the year the volunteers were on the treatment, sperm
production plummeted. When they were taken off it, levels
returned to normal. Side effects were seen to be fairly
Despite the breakthrough, it will be a while before men have
to remember to take their birth control pill with lunch.
Doctors associated with the project say it would take at least
five years to make the implant and injection system used in
the trials available to the public. Fashioning it into pill
form will take another seven to ten.
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