Women have seen their options for non-permanent contraception grow faster than men. Current solutions for females include physical barriers, such as condoms, hormonal treatments (pills and injections) and intrauterine devices.
Men, in contrast, only have condoms as a non-permanent contraceptive method, which is far from being a popular choice and doesn't compare to the effectiveness of birth control pills. However, a host of new scientific developments in male birth control could bring a whole new range of drug-based solutions for men sooner than later.
A recent study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, brings light to a new promising hormone-based drug contraceptive for men. The injection underwent a trial lasting more than one year; more than 300 men, aged 18 to 45 years, in monogamous relationships participated in it. Preliminary tests ensured that participants had normal levels of semen. From there, every participant took two hormone injections (one of progestogen and one of testosterone) every two months. The men were monitored until sperm levels dropped, and then continued for roughly one year exclusively on the new drug. Neither males nor females used other contraceptive methods during the experimental trial. The new injection successfully prevented pregnancies in 96 out of every 100 couples. This success rate surpasses condoms, rivaling female pills.
Unfortunately, the study did not come without hiccups: the trial was stopped ahead of time owing to the side effects experienced by participants. The most common symptoms reported were mood alterations (including depression), increased libido and acne. But more serious side effects, such as abnormal heart rates were also found. Twenty men left the study because they couldn't handle the symptoms. A total of nearly 1500 side effects were reported, although 39% of them were found to be unrelated to the contraceptive method in question.
Other solutions are under study
Despite the hasty termination of the trial, the new injection proved to deliver a promising balance between downsides and upsides. More than 75% of participants said they would be willing to deal with the side effects to continue using the contraceptive as part of the trial.
Scientists investigate the potential of hormonal contraceptives for men for more than two decades, and previous drug trials have failed to deliver acceptable results without severe side effects, or even the risk of permanent infertility. Researchers have acknowledged the need to reduce the incidence of side effects of the new solution and are currently working on it.
Meanwhile, other promising efforts could bring new commercially available solutions in the short-term. Vasalgel and an innovative peptide-based drug that 'paralyzes' sperm are being actively researched and developed.