Right now, the answer to that question is a resounding “sorta.” In the year 2022, despite the perfection of indoor plumbing, despite condensing more computing power than the first NASA spacecraft into devices that can fit in our pockets, despite a number of exciting, cutting-edge technological innovations in other areas of health and wellness, there are still only two options for male birth control available on the market right now.
What are the reasons for delayed progress on this front? Well, contraception methods developed for most men need to contain more reproductive cells than contraceptives developed for most women - a lot more. Consider that most cisgender women only release one or two egg cells a month, whereas most cis men can produce millions of sperm cells a day.
So, logistics are one big factor that has complicated the development of new male birth control options, as there are many more points or links in the reproductive chain that must be targeted to mitigate the risk of unwanted fertilization. Another complicating factor has been patriarchal social stigmas, which frame the prevention of unwanted pregnancy as largely being a woman’s responsibility and burden.
But more and more couples are coming around to view pregnancy prevention and safe sex as a shared responsibility, and more men are expressing interest in wanting new ways to support their partners. A recent analysis of multinational survey data released by the American Society of Andrology found that 29 to 71% of men would be interested in utilizing new hormonal methods of male contraception.
Moreover, they found that in market research of American men aged 18 to 44 whose partners experienced unwanted pregnancy, around 82% expressed interest in using new, alternative methods of male contraception. Decades of research have been devoted to finding alternatives, with little success. But recent events have renewed public interest in these alternatives, and recent exciting developments point toward these novel alternatives potentially arriving to mass markets in the near future.
According to a new report released by the United Nations Population Fund, nearly half of all global pregnancies each year are unintended. Following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe V. Wade, a legal precedent that made legal nationwide access to safe abortion care a federally-protected right, prevention of unwanted pregnancies is a more important shared priority for American couples than ever before.
With that said, let's explore where existing male birth control options stand at the moment, and how exciting new research developments in reproductive health could expand those options.
How Male Birth Control Works
As we’ve stated previously, most cis men are only left with two means of reliable birth control; condoms and vasectomies, a surgical procedure that entails cutting and sealing the vas deferens. When they’re used correctly, condoms are roughly 98% effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy (NHS), and vasectomies have over 99% efficacy when it comes to preventing unintended pregnancies (NHS).
But condoms can still fail or accidentally break in rare instances, and vasectomies are oftentimes a permanent form of birth control. This surgical procedure can sometimes be reversed in the event that a patient changes their mind about family planning, but not always. The more time that’s subsequently passed since the initial vasectomy surgery, the more difficult it is to perform the procedure that would reverse that initial procedure (Mayo Clinic).
Furthermore, although very rare, vasectomies sometimes lead to long-term chronic pain in approximately 1-2% of patients who receive them, according to research published in the Translational Andrology and Urology journal. Whilst the two methods of male birth control currently available to the masses are both highly effective in the prevention of unwanted pregnancy, both come with their own potential downsides that are making men desire new ways of supporting their partners.
Fortunately, exciting new research is pointing toward the potential merits of alternative male contraceptive methods.
Male Birth Control Research
Research on experimental new male birth control methods has effectively been in the works since the 1990s, when the World Health Organization first sponsored trials for hormonal male birth control drugs. Unfortunately, these drugs didn’t take off due to potentially risky side effects, side effects that exacerbated the risk of cardiovascular health issues, and even prostate cancer.
Similarly, a four-year trial of injectable male birth control, conducted between the late 2000s and early 2010s, was halted due to its own serious side effects, including a worsened risk of depression. But scientists and researchers are currently hard at work developing new methods of male contraception. While these methods are largely still in the clinical trial stage, here are some of the most exciting:
- YCT529: In mice trials, this non-hormonal pill was found to be 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, with no apparent side effects. Fertility returned in the male mice after 4-6 weeks off the pill, indicating that this chemical compound might offer a reliable contraceptive option for men who don’t want something as permanent as a vasectomy. (American Chemical Society)
- ADAM & RISUG: These implantable gel solutions are injected into the vas deferens, and have both shown significant efficacy in preventing fertilization. Right now, ADAM is currently being tested through government-published clinical trials in the U.S. (with an estimated completion date of 2025), and RISUG is in Phase III of clinical trials in India, according to the Basic and Clinical Andrology journal.
- NES/T: This gel solution is applied topically to the shoulders on a daily basis, and is absorbed through the skin. Like ADAM, it’s shown early efficacy in U.S. clinical trials (clinicaltrials.gov), which are currently in Phase 2 and expected to be completed by late 2024.
- DMAU and 11β-MNTDC: These two experimental hormonal male birth control medications have both shown promise in ongoing studies sponsored by the Endocrine Society, lowering testosterone and sperm counts without any unwanted side effects. But since this research is still ongoing, it’s unclear when these pills will become available to wider markets.
By offering men as many birth control options as women, men and women both could mutually be further empowered to assert control over their bodily autonomy and family planning as a couple. These new contraceptive methods still need to be further means tested to ensure they have minimal side effects and risks, but the early research results are undoubtedly promising.
Male Birth Control Side Effects
Past studies of experimental male birth control options have been scrapped for side effects ranging from mild to more severe, including:
- Weight gain
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Lowered Libido
- Mood Swings
- Muscle Pain
Just as some women experience unpleasant hormonal side effects with certain birth control methods, similar side effects have occurred with men trying these experimental contraceptive methods. In order to ensure that these new contraceptive methods have mass market appeal, researchers will have to ensure that they have a minimal risk of leading to these side effects.
Certainly, there is mass market interest in new methods of male contraception, especially now more so than ever, at a time when millions of women in many states now face even greater health risks posed by unwanted pregnancies. In a time where millions of people now face even greater reproductive health inequity, we can only hope that these new contraceptive methods are able to promote greater reproductive health equity.
When Will Male Birth Control Be Available?
In a recent NPR profile of some researchers and endocrinologists who are hard at work developing these new contraceptives, they speculated that it would be another 7 to 10 years before these new methods of male birth control hit store shelves.
These options still need further research, means-testing, and development to guarantee their safety and efficacy. But if you want to find out which birth control options you can currently have delivered safely and discreetly to your doorstep, we would recommend taking a look at our relevant providers, including affordable online pharmacy platforms like Wisp!