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male contraceptive pill
via Adobe Stock (aleksashka_89)

A revolutionary male contraceptive pill has been deemed safe

It could be on the market in 10 years

Since the 50s, the responsibility for birth control has fallen on women. Pills, injections, patches, gels, intra-uterine devices; there’s a wealth of misinformation and side effects, including messing with your mental health. In what is a revolutionary breakthrough for sexual health, a trial for a once-a-day male contraceptive pill has shown no significant side effects, and could potentially find its way to the marketplace.

The trial involved a month-long study, testing 40 men in total aged between 18 and 50. 10 men were given a placebo, with the remaining 30 given a pill similar to the female contraceptive pill, which alters hormones and is taken with food for 28 days. The drug, called 11-beta-MNTDC, contains a form of progesterone that blocks the hormones needed to make sperm, with another testosterone like element that balances any drops in male hormones.

Doctors involved in the study found that sperm production fell in the participants taking the daily pill. Some of the men flagged side effects like acne, decreased libido, and headaches, but none were considered major or serious. Side effects considered more serious have hindered previous studies

The next step is reportedly confirming whether sperm count actually fell in the time taking the pill, and if it is sufficient enough to combat pregnancy. It’s an exciting breakthrough in the contraceptive field, given the disappointing results of past trials that flagged more intense side effects in men. A number of studies have explored pills, gels, and injections as alternative contraceptive methods for men –  a topical gel, which men would apply daily to shoulders and arms, is looking pretty positive with further study.

Dr. Stephanie Page, a co-senior investigator on the study at the University of Washington said the goal was to “expand contraceptive options and create a menu of choices for men like we have for women”.

“We are neglecting a major potential user population with the limited options currently available to men,” she added.

A new alternative to the current range of contraception for women also now exists – instead of taking it every day the protection lasts a year. The FDA cleared the use of Annovera, a silicone ring that you insert into the vagina that is lined with hormones to prevent you from ovulating, back in October.

Though experts have hailed this study as a significant moment, there’s still more work to be done to bring such a pill to market and mass distribution. What will happen next is more long-term study with men (three months or more to analyse sperm production) and then couples who can test it out over a number of years. It could take about a decade for a male contraceptive pill to come to market.

The study has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal just yet, and it hasn’t been submitted for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

The demand for a male pill is as intense as ever though, as co-senior investigator Dr. Christina Wang said: “Men have really limited options when it comes to reversible contraception. When we ask men about hormonal compounds, about 50 per cent are willing to try this new method. And when you ask their partners, the percentage is even higher.”