The male contraceptive pill is a frequently discussed subject.
At present, there is no such pill available. However, it is an area undergoing continuing research, and it is hoped that some options will be available in the future.
Since the introduction of the female contraceptive pill in the 1960s, research and development into the area of male contraception has fluctuated.
This has been due to a number of reasons, such as funding being stopped and started by pharmaceutical companies, and because of an apparent lack of progress.
Current Male Contraceptive Options
Today, male contraceptive options are comparatively limited. They include condoms, which are a barrier method which also protects against most sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and, as a more permanent solution, a vasectomy procedure.
The Requirements of the Male Pill
In order for a ‘male pill’ to be successfully introduced, it must satisfy certain criteria met by the female version.
Firstly, it must be reversible, so that reproduction can return to normal when desired.
Secondly, it needs to be effective.
Finally, it should not pose a significant risk of side effects.
Due to the disproportionality of options available, Lisa Campo-Engelstein has commented in an essay published in the Journal of Ethics that responsibility tends to fall more on the shoulders of women.
This responsibility can incur medical appointments, having to deal with unwanted side effects, invasive examinations and procedures, and of course stress. There is also always the possibility that the contraceptive pill may not work, due to a range of factors.
How a Male Pill Might Work
Female contraceptives pills contain synthetic hormones, which alter the normal reproductive processes in the body.
A similar concept has been applied in research into the male pill; it has been found that the female hormone progesterone can be used to stop the production of sperm.
However, at the same time it also reduces testosterone levels, which in turn can affect libido and bone density. In order to counteract this reaction, testosterone supplements would be required.
Some studies have also suggested that this type of treatment does not always sufficiently inhibit sperm counts, thereby posing a risk of pregnancy. It is thought that this could be linked to differences in ethnic groups.
Research into adaptations of this form of contraceptive have continued for many years but an approved method is yet to come to fruition.
The alternative to interfering with male hormone function is to physically alter the male reproductive organs. Much research has focussed on the vas deferens, which is the tube which transports sperm from the testicles to the penis.
Techniques have concentrated on an injection administered to the vas deferens via the scrotum, known as reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (RISUG).
One product still undergoing various studies in India is Vasalgel which coats the inside of the vas deferens tubes with a chemical that kills any sperm trying to pass through.
A further injection is administered when the male user wishes to reverse the procedure, which flushes out the active chemical allowing for new sperm to stay alive and travel freely into the penis.
Another non-hormonal option is the intra-vas device (IVD), an implant which effectively plugs the vas deferens and prevents sperm from passing through. Further research into the safety and long-term effects of this method is still being carried out to see whether it is viable.
Protein-blocking is one other option being considered particular proteins used by the body in the launching process of sperm during ejaculation.
How Likely Are Men to Actually Use It?
Whether or not men will actually take up use of the pill is a heavily debated topic, and also a divisive one. One survey suggested that above 50 percent* of men who already use some form of contraception would be open to using a male pill. Many feel that men should have more options than those that are currently available.
When Can We Expect It?
It isn't yet clear. There is still reportedly quite a long way to go before UK doctors will be able to prescribe a male contraceptive. All new medications have to complete a rigorous evaluation process before they can be launched onto the market.
We’ll be sure to keep you posted.