Male Birth Control Pill Is One Step Closer to Reality

Mar 19, 2018 at 12:16 p.m. ET
Image: SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

There have been rumors of a male* birth control pill for years, but thanks to promising new research, it looks like it may soon become a reality.

Results from a recent study were presented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Chicago and indicated that a contraceptive pill for men appears to be safe when used daily for a month. The male birth control pill — called dimethandrolone undecanoate — works similarly to the pill for women, combining a hormone (in this case, testosterone) with a progestin, which results in effective contraceptive effects when taken once a day.

"DMAU is a major step forward in the development of a once-daily 'male pill'," Dr. Stephanie Page, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in a statement. "Many men say they would prefer a daily pill as a reversible contraceptive rather than long-acting injections or topical gels, which are also in development."

The first FDA-approved birth control pill for women hit the market in 1960. Why has the male equivalent taken so much longer to come to fruition? Turns out there are a few different reasons.

More: Why Mad Men's Take on Birth Control Is (Sadly) Not Outdated in 2017

According to Page, progress toward a male contraceptive pill has been so slow because the oral forms of testosterone that where available had the potential to cause liver inflammation. On top of that, these forms of the hormone moved through the body so quickly it required two doses each day.

More: Reversible Male Contraceptive Gel Looks Promising

But, Page says, DMAU contains a long-chain fatty acid, which slows this process. The pill is being developed by the National Institutes of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which also funded this study.

The study involved 100 healthy men between the ages of 18 and 50, which each took one of three randomly assigned doses. The highest dosage showed "marked suppression" of testosterone levels, while the low dosages were consistent with results from other forms of male contraception in longer-term studies.

"Despite having low levels of circulating testosterone, very few subjects reported symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency or excess," Page said in a statement.

But like all existing forms of birth control for men and women, there are some side effects. For example, all the study participants experienced weight gain and decreases in their HDL (aka good) cholesterol, though Page said both were minor.

"These promising results are unprecedented in the development of a prototype male pill," Page said. "Longer term studies are currently under way to confirm that DMAU taken every day blocks sperm production."

* It is important to note that not every person who produces sperm identifies as male and not all males produce sperm. The term "male birth control pill" will be used throughout the article to describe a contraceptive pill designed to lower sperm count.

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