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In the mid-20th century, contraceptive pills became widely available and popular among women. And with that, the responsibility for contraception usually landed on women. For decades since then, the concept of a contraceptive pill for males has made the rounds again and again through the medical community. But, in 2023, we still don't have one, even though promising research and inroads into the idea have been made.
So what's the deal?
Potential methods for male birth control have all hit snags. For one, some of the methods for men have been rejected because of undesirable side effects – often the same ones that are pretty common among women who take the pill. Another one, believe it or not, has been ego-related. One version that prevented ejaculation during orgasm, or the "clean sheets" pill, was seen as "emasculating." Don't underestimate the appeal of the money shot, we guess.
"There have been very successful trials of male hormonal contraceptive injections," said Susan Walker, an associate professor of contraception and reproductive health at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. She mentions contraceptive injections, which are almost 100% effective in suppressing sperm concentrations. "That worked extremely well. But it was halted because of worries around side effects, like mood changes and skin changes – which those of us who work with female contraception weren't really surprised about."
But now, we're close to a new male contraceptive pill that could change the game.
Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine made a drug that temporarily freezes sperm, successfully preventing pregnancy. It's still being tested in mice, but this is a big deal. A single dose paralyzed mice's sperm for over two hours and was 100% effective in the first two hours. It's also fast-acting, kicking in after just 30 minutes, and would theoretically be taken as needed rather than on a regular schedule like birth control for females. (Say bye to those daily reminder alarms!) The mice studies are laying the groundwork for human trials if the medical community gets on board.
"I think this is really one of the biggest advancements for non-hormonal contraceptives in recent times," says Christopher Lindsey, an official with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.