Are we getting closer to a male contraceptive?

Scientists are working toward new contraceptive methods for men, but so far nothing has come to the market. Though there have been many failures in the past, two new breakthroughs suggest we might be getting closer.

Why isn’t there a Pill for men? The easy answer is that sperm production and ovulation are very different things. When a woman ovulates depends on the levels of hormones in her body throughout the month. Men, on the other hand, produce sperm all the time. As of right now, men really only have two options that don’t rely on their partner using birth controlcondoms and vasectomy. But a vasectomy is a bit permanent. And the condom is, well, inconvenient. You have to keep buying them and remember to have one on you. They can be annoying to use and, worst of all, they can break.

What this comes down to is that, for the majority of couples using birth control, the woman is the one using some form of contraceptive. The problem? Hormonal contraceptives can have serious side effects, and often have some kind of non-serious but unwanted side effects. I mean, you’re messing with your hormones. Besides the negative aspects of hormonal birth control,  perhaps men would just like to have more control over their reproduction, without having to hope the woman has been taking her Pill every day or that the condom doesn’t break.

But take heart, men; there’s hope! Two promising male birth control options are currently being tested. One is a pharmaceutical option, like the Pill, being developed by researchers at Columbia University. So far, it’s only been tested in mice. It works by blocking the ability of the body to use Vitamin A, which is needed for making sperm. Male mice taking the drug were sterile, but once they were off the drug they went right back to making babies. Of course, Vitamin A is needed for other things (like vision and the immune system), so we’ll have to wait to see whether there are side effects to the drug.

The second one is nothing like the Pill at all. It’s a whole new concept: an injection that coats the vas deferens and kills sperm on their way out (read about it here; be warned: there is a video of the procedure used to inject the compound, which is graphic in nature). The compound would only need to be injected once and the process is completely reversible: just flush the vas deferens with a solvent (DMSO) and it’s back to business as usual. The compound was invented by Indian scientist Sujoy Guha and is already in Phase III clinical trials in India. In the US, preliminary human studies are getting under way, but additional funding will be needed to complete the FDA approval process.

What do you think? Is it important to have a male birth control option?

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