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Ever since the concept of a male contraceptive pill has been sown in the mind, researchers have been promising a male hormonal contraceptive option, but there are good reasons why it has not yet been engineered or materialized yet.

Oral contraceptives for men?

Since its origin in the 1960’s the female oral contraceptive pill has provided women all over the world with a safe, effective and reversible form of contraception. The success rate of the pill, which stands at 97% to 99%, can only be achieved when all pills are taken in time. But with today’s hectic work schedule working women find it rather difficult to keep track of the time and number with regards to consumption of these pills.

Ever since the concept of birth control came into being it was solely focused on the female body, and put women in the contraceptive drivers’ seat. The birth control pill, diaphragm, Depo-Provera, and Norplant are just a few of the many contraceptives designed to be used by women. Now, women all over the world can breathe a sigh of relief, as the responsibility of birth control can fall on their mall counterparts.

But is there really a need of a male contraceptive pill in the first place? Nowadays, men can use condoms to prevent pregnancy and, if they decide that they’ve finished having children, they can resort to vasectomy.

Traditionally, men have had access to condoms and vasectomies, but contraceptive research is now focusing on developing new forms of male birth control that are potentially safer, more effective and more convenient than other contraceptives in the market today. Researchers are eyeing many options like a pill to be taken orally, a patch or gel to be applied to the skin, an injection given every three months or an implant placed under the skin every 12 months. This may soon become a reality.

Researchers have been promising a male hormonal contraceptive option

Ever since the concept of a male contraceptive pill has been sown in the mind, researchers have been promising a male hormonal contraceptive option, but there are good reasons why it has not yet been engineered or materialized yet. While women make one egg a month, men produce about 1,000 sperm every second. This makes it more difficult to shut down that level of production.

The other reason is that many pharmaceutical industries haven’t had proper funding for carrying out extensive studies involved in this field. Major pharmaceutical companies like Wyeth, Schering and Organon were pumping millions into male hormonal birth-control drug discovery, but they concluded that there wasn't enough of a market to make male hormonal contraceptives worthwhile. The German drug giant Schering halted its development program in 2006, and other drug companies quickly followed suit, abandoning several projects that were on the verge of success.

What does this pill contain?

One of the main avenues for male birth control was the hormonally-based pill. It uses a combination of testosterone and progestin, which turn off signals from the brain to the testes, this however causes significant side effects like low libido, depression, etc. or affecting a man's masculinity or sexuality. Also because digestion breaks down testosterone, a combination pill couldn't hold enough testosterone to be effective at reversing the effects of the progestogen.

Another breakthrough in this area is by researchers from King's College London, UK. They have managed to isolate a chemical which stops the vas deferens from contracting and pumping sperm from the testicles out of the penis (ejaculating). Animal studies and human studies are yet to take place and if all goes well this pill may be in the market by 2012. Likewise the side effects of drowsiness and dizziness are still to be polished.

Because of the challenges of creating a hormonally-based male birth-control pill, researchers are looking into non-hormonal methods to lower sperm count or somehow disable the sperm so that they cannot fertilize an egg.

Recently a male contraceptive pill has been developed by Israel’s Bar-Ilan University which is targeted to remove a vital protein in sperm that is required for a woman to conceive. So while sperm still get through to the uterus they are unable to fertilize an egg. This pill is 100 percent effective and comes without any side effect on human behavior and also sexual activity. What is more interesting is that it needs to be taken only once in three months.

Professor Haim Breitbart of Israel's Bar-Ilan University, who has helped develop the pill said, “Men don’t cope well with side effects and having side effects would probably put many off wanting to take a pill. We’ve had none of those problems with our pill.”

Two-thirds of American men said they would be willing to try the new pill

If a male birth-control pill does become a reality, two questions surround its possible use:

  1. Will men take it?
  2. Will women trust them to take it?

The answer to both the questions would inevitably be “yes”. In a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, two-thirds of American men said they would be willing to try the new pill. Also in an international study of 4,000 men, more than two-thirds of the men said they would use a birth-control pill if it were available.

While women may be more than happy to pass on the buck to their male counterparts to take the responsibility of fertility, what women fear is their inability to remember to take a pill. Polls have repeatedly shown wives and partners do not trust their men to remember to pop a pill every day.

But now that problem has been solved. With the advent of the new non-hormonal pill which can be taken either once a month or once every three months.

Professor Breitbart said: "I think most women would trust their man to remember once a month or once a quarter.” He also mentions that this breakthrough pill could be available in as little as three years.

The boon of male contraceptive pills

With the inception of the male contraceptive pill, the burden of contraception would no longer rest solely upon a woman’s shoulders. It provides us with the opportunity to wade off harmful gender stereotypes and to engage men, the oft-forgotten stakeholders in reproduction, in the importance of family planning and in shouldering the responsibilities of fertility.

More importantly one has to note that though this pill would help decrease the chances of unintentional pregnancies if both partners use some form of oral conception, it is also imperative to note that all said and done, birth control pills do not protect against any type of STDs.

  • Advances in Male Contraception, Stephanie T. Page, John K. Amory and William J. Bremner