Everything You Need To Know About Male Contraception
If you’re a cis woman (or a trans men) who sleeps with cis men, birth control has probably usually been your responsibility. That makes sense, given that the consequences of it failing are impossible for us to avoid.
But the side effects, particularly from hormonal contraception, can sometimes be debilitating – everything from breast pain to clinical depression to (thankfully rarely) blood clots and strokes.
Wouldn’t it be better if men could share some of the cost and inconvenience, and have more control over their fertility into the bargain? Well, one day, that might become more common.
Read on for our guide to male contraception – and how it could change in the future…
What’s currently available?
To sum it up: slim pickings. In a little more detail…
They not only prevent pregnancy but also protect against sexually-transmitted diseases. The downside? They fail 2% of the time when used correctly and 18% of the time when used incorrectly. That means they’re better as a back-up than your primary form of birth control.
Surgery where the vas deferens (the tube that transports sperm from the testicles to the penis) is cut or sealed. This makes it so that semen no longer contains sperm, so it can’t fertilize an egg. It’s successful 99% of the time, but isn’t typically recommend for people who haven’t had children yet.
What about the “male pill”?
For years, scientists (and journalists) have trumpeted the possibility of the “male pill”. However, while that’s a catchy phrase, it’s unlikely that any future hormonal contraception will take this form, because it would be metabolized too quickly to be effective.
So, what are scientists working on?
Progress has been slow, because it’s a lot easier to block one egg from being released than 100 million sperm (without permanently affecting fertility, at least). But some new possibilities have emerged recently:
Berkeley researchers have identified a natural compound called lupeol (found in mangos, grapes, and olives) which seems capable of blocking CatSper, a molecule that only occurs in sperm, which could temporarily prevent sperm production.
Similarly, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine have found a molecule called JQ1 that “switches off” sperm production and is effective 100% of the time – but so far, only in mice.
Shots every two months of progestogen, in order to block sperm production, are at least 98% effective, according to researchers from Martin Luther University and the University of Münster in Germany. However, their trial was cut short last year after men complained of side effects, including muscle pain, acne, and severe depression.
The Population Council has developed a hormone gel that works in a similar way (but without the need for shots) which they’re hoping will be better tolerated. Human trials start in 2018.
This will probably be the quickest to market, as human trials should be completed by 2020. A product called Vasalgel is injected into the sperm ducts to stop them from releasing sperm – basically a temporary vasectomy. It’s around 99% effective and each injection works for a year.
Will men use it?
Because cis men will never have to live with the symptoms of pregnancy first hand, they’re less willing to put up with the side-effects of hormonal treatments. But if they can find the right product for them, they do seem interested in having more control of their fertility. Seventy-five percent of men in the hormone injections trial said that they’d be happy to make it their main method of contraception.
Do women trust their partners to use birth control?
Hearteningly, yes. Back in the year 2000, University of Edinburgh researchers talked to 1894 women in health clinics in Scotland, China and South Africa and found that 98% would trust their male partners with birth control. Ninety percent of women surveyed in Scotland and South Africa thought it was a good idea, while 87% in Shanghai were keen. If you’re on the same page, the news is hopeful: Whether as a pill, a shot, a gel, it seems likely that we’ll see at least one more male contraceptive option available in the next few years. Just don’t hold your breath (or throw out your birth control) quite yet.