What's The Deal With Male Birth Control?

Turns out, dudes can't hang with a little he-MS.

Hormonal birth control for women hit the US market in 1957, but due to serious side effects, was limited to severe menstruation disorders for three years. In 1960, it was approved for use as general contraception. Five years later, despite unknown side effects and objections from the religious right, 6.5 million American women are on the pill, making it the most popular form of birth control in America. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the market finally got a handle on the major side-effects of hormonal contraception. 

One hundred lawsuits are pending against Bayer Healthcare Corporation regarding the side effects of birth control , ncluding an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes, on top of recent studies that link hormonal birth control with depression. 

Still, with unintended pregnancies making up 40 percent of pregnancies worldwide and a 15 percent failure rate for condoms (when they are used correctly) the race for an effective and reversible form of male birth control is on. So what’s the hold up? I’m glad you asked, my savvy friend. Here’s a deeper look into the her-story of male birth control, why it’s taken so long to develop, and why we may finally be closer than we think. 

Hormonal Birth Control

The largest clinical trial for a hormonal form of male birth control was abandoned due to the same side effects commonly reported by women on hormonal birth control, including weight gain, increased libedo, depression and acne. Before you even ask, yes, there has been plenty of criticism about the double standard this creates. The burden of preventing pregnancies has long fallen squarely on the shoulders of women, despite men being fully responsible for half of every pregnancy. 

Still, the bar for responsible pharmaceuticals has risen, and there is a concern that men won’t put up with a product that includes so many unfavorable side effects. This calls into question its viability in the commercial market. Cosmopolitan Magazine responded to the study’s termination with the headline: “Men Quit Male Bith Control Study Because It Was Giving Them Mood Swings." Welcome to the club, dudes. Also: WOMAN UP. 

Before the injections were discontinued (they were a cocktail of synthetic progestin and testosterone) they boasted a 96 percent effectiveness rating, which is good, but not great. Hormonal birth control for women, when used correctly, comes in around 99.9 percent effective, not to mention that men produce millions of sperm every day compared to a woman’s single monthly egg. 

Twenty of the 320 men in the trial dropped out of the study due to side effects, and despite more than three quarters of men reporting a willingness to continue to use male hormonal birth control after the trial, the study was abandoned. 

As a side note, one of the men in the study committed suicide during the trial, which, along with 39 percent of all reported side effects, was deemed to be unrelated to the trial. But, it certainly didn’t help them gain momentum.

Vasalgel

Developed as a social venture by the nonprofit Parsemus Foundation, which works “to advance innovative and neglected medical research," the most promising form of male birth control functions essentially as an easily reversible, no-scalpel vasectomy. It would block, rather than cut the vas deferens, thereby preventing the flow of sperm from making its way to the urethra. The sperm is reabsorbed into the body and the circle of life continues… except without any unwanted pregnancies. 

A second injection dissolves the gel, making the procedure fully and easily reversable. Et voila! An IUD for men!

They’ve run 100 percent successful trials on mice and monkeys, which has added bonus of helping to control animal populations at zoos. The Parsemus Foundation is already reporting a long waitlist of men who are eager to undergo the procedure. So what’s the hold up? 

Big pharma isn’t interested in low-cost, long-acting solutions to what ails us. According to Elaine Lissner, founder and director of The Parasmus Foundation, “This is a nightmare product for a pharmaceutical company. For a pharmaceutical company, the ideal method is expensive and short-acting. And for a man the ideal method is cheap and long-acting.” Help has come from a handful of donors including The World Health Organization and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but sources of funding for research towards male birth control that in Lissner’s words, “doesn’t suck” has been few and far between.

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