Changing Technology: The Birth of the Male Pill

Image credit: Medical News Today

Scientists over the world have been reporting the high possibility of a new contraceptive drug on the market in the form of an oral pill for men. But how does it work? And will it be accepted into society?

In the past few months, following on from multiple other studies, a birth control pill for men has been created and passed basic human safety tests. When taken once a day, the hormones contained in this pill are designed to stop the production of sperm (spermatogenesis), the male gamete. During sexual intercourse, a sperm cell would usually fuse with an egg cell (produced by the female) to form a zygote, which later becomes a baby. By preventing sperm production, there is no fertilisation and no resulting pregnancy. 

The study on the efficacy and the safety of this pill lasted 28 days. 30 male volunteers took a pill containing 11-beta-MNTDC, which is an androgen based drug, meaning it contains hormones which play a part in developing male traits and reproductive organs. 10 people took a placebo, a version of the pill without any drug in it, so that they could compare the differences between these people and those taking the real pill. They observed that the people taking the drug had a greatly reduced amount of hormones required for sperm production compared to those with the placebo. Importantly, they also found that these levels returned to normal once they stopped taking this pill, meaning that it will not affect long term fertility.

Side effects are also important to consider, as may affect health or the willingness of people to use this contraceptive method over others. The side effects from this study were fairly moderate, with a few cases of fatigue, acne or headaches throughout the group (4 or 6 men). Five men taking the drug reported decreased sex drive and two reported mild erectile dysfunction, but overall sexual activity was not decreased. None of the participants decided to stop taking the pill and all of the safety tests were passed. 

This has surpassed many other up and coming forms of male contraceptive in several ways. Some past attempts were halted due to concern for effects on mental health. It may also be a preferable method to other currently available contraceptives. The female pill , injections and implant are common hormone-based methods for women, restricted by their negative effects on mood swings and regularity of the menstrual cycle. Some methods can cause discomfort like an IUD (intrauterine device) or can be unfavourable due to their physical nature like a condom. Ultimately no methods is 100% effective and their disadvantages vary from individual to individual, so having a new method available will simply make successful birth control more likely.

The key problem doesn’t really lie in the science of this pill, but in how society will react, and whether it is even worth the costs of production. Opinion polls do reveal that most males would choose to take this pill if necessary.“When we ask men about hormonal compounds, about 50 per cent are willing to try this new method.” Christina Wang reported.

 This is likely due to the male alternatives being less preferable, most commonly the condom or a vasectomy which are both physical barriers rather than chemical. However, a UK survey by Anglia Ruskin University in 2011 found that 70 out of 134 women would be concerned that their male partner would forget to take a pill, which implies that many women would be discouraged from using it. As ultimately it is the woman who must ensure 9 months of pregnancy, it is likely that they would want to take more responsibility and be more cautious of the consequences. 

So it may be a few more years before we see this product on the market, but it’s passed all the tests so far. Opinions vary on whether it is a good idea or not. But society-wise, it gives men more power in the decision making of having a child, just as the introduction of the  female contraceptive pill in 1961 (NHS) did, so it should be viewed positively as giving people more opportunities and control over their lives. 

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Katie Reichelt

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