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Depending upon funding, it appears that new methods for birth control are on the horizon — for men. While men and women both have their thoughts about the ability for men to take control over their sexual lives in a way that women have had since the 1960s, others may not understand how this birth control might work, or how this transition of “power” might feel. Although there are qualms on both sides of the fence about hormonal birth control for men, the current alternatives for men include vasectomy (painful and not always reversible), condoms (blunt pleasure and may break or slip off), coitus interruptus and trust in the female partner to take a birth control pill.
The following two lists contain everything you might want to know about the male birth control pill. One category includes both the various methods of male birth control now in experimentation and their known drawbacks. The second category contains perceptions about male birth control today. The links in this article all lead to various news articles, encyclopedias and more than illustrate and help to explain the options further.
The Methods and Drawbacks
- Extra Testosterone: Researchers at Edinburgh University’s Centre for Reproductive Biology have found a way to suppress daily sperm production while maintaining normal testosterone levels. Giving a man extra testosterone can essentially shut down sperm production.
- Drawbacks to Testosterone: The trouble with this method is that giving a man the amount of testosterone necessary to suppress sperm production can cause several unwanted side effects, including acne, weight gain, prostate-gland growth and abnormal liver function. Some men who have participated in test studies, however, feel few side effects.
- Progesterone: A more promising alternative uses a combination of testosterone and another sex hormone: progestogen (progesterone). In low doses, progestogen suppresses the reproductive hormone system of both men and women — progestogen is a component of the female birth-control pill. In men, it inhibits sperm production in the testes.
- Drawbacks to Progesterone: The drawback to using progesterone is that it can also affect male sexuality and sexual characteristics, so men who take progestogen must also have testosterone injections to maintain those characteristics. In some male birth control studies, a simple testosterone injection was used with great success.
- Eppin: Another form of male birth control targets the immune system. A protein called eppin, which is produced in the testes and epididymis, facilitates sperm maturation. Scientists at the University of Washington have been able to immunize monkeys against eppin. Monkeys that developed an immune response against eppin became infertile, and when they stopped receiving the vaccine injections, they regained their fertility.
- Drawbacks to Eppin: As with female birth control, doctors say hormonal contraception for men will have no lasting effects on fertility, and that sperm counts should return to normal quite quickly once a man goes off the injections. Some men may experience mild side effects from the jabs such as hot flashes, mood swings or acne.
- Progestogen Etonogestrel: Researchers from the pharmaceutical companies Organon and Schering AG have conducted a major study on a male contraceptive implant. In 2002, they began phase II clinical trials of a male birth-control implant containing the progestogen etonogestrel — a hormone also present in hormonally-based contraception for women (Note: Organon has been a part of the Schering-Plough corporation since 2007).
- Drawbacks to Progestogen Etonogestrel: Because etonogestrel blocks testosterone as well as sperm production, men who get this implant would also need to receive testosterone injections. The phase II trial finished in December 2005, and by 2008, when the etonogestrel esters were introduced on the patent market, it was stated that no effective and efficient methods of male contraception from this method were available.
- Non-Hormonal Methods: Because of the challenges of creating a hormonally-based male birth-control pill, researchers are looking into non-hormonal methods to lower sperm count or somehow disable the sperm so that they cannot fertilize an egg. The idea behind non-hormonal methods is to use a biochemical messenger to block a protein called “Cs” that ‘turns on’ the tail of the sperm that allows that sperm to swim through the epididymis. But, the process would need to block the sperm and yet leave it basically healthy.
- Drawbacks to Non-Hormonal Methods: However, many scientists feel the non-hormonal method is the ‘holy grail’ in male contraceptive research, as Big Pharma might be less interested in a product that is less profitable.
- High-Tech Solutions: New techniques that do not involve Big Pharm or hormones include ultrasound methods that scramble the sperm, an implantable ring that zaps sperm rather than blocking the passage of that sperm and devices that actually block the sperm. At present all these methods are undergoing clinical trials, but you can learn more about them at Male Contraceptives.
- Drawbacks to High-Tech Solutions: None known yet, other than getting them from the laboratory to the market.
Issues Surrounding Male Birth Control
- Ignorance: Despite the progress on male birth control, and despite the fact that female contraceptives have been on the market for almost half a century, there is much ignorance about how and when to use birth control. For instance, 29 percent of men and 32 percent of women reported knowing “little or nothing about condoms.” 78 percent of men and 45 percent of women said the same about birth control pills.
- Willingness to try: Of the 71 percent of American men who said they’d be willing to try at least one form of male contraceptive, 66 percent said they’d try the pill. And, in an international study of 4,000 men and women, more than two-thirds of the men said they would use a birth-control pill if it were available, and 75 percent of the women said they would trust their partner to handle the birth control.
- Reduction of Condom Use: Health experts fear that the use of the pill among men who are not in monogamous relationships could reduce condom use and increase the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. People felt that regardless of a woman’s use of other contraceptive methods, a condom should always be used for protection. This belief, however, differed markedly from actual practice.
While men have fewer and more drastic choices available to them today, the possibility that a male birth control method is on the horizon is a distinct possibility. Learning about the various methods now may help individuals choose what they would like to do in the future, should the need arise. Men may have more options for birth control in the future than women did in the past.