When we think of birth control, often the first thing to come to mind is the hormonal pill for women. But from as far back as the 1950s, there’s been talk of how to create something similar for men. After all, it takes two to tango, right?
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism described one research team’s quest for the elusive male contraceptive.
It started out simply enough. In September 2008, a group of 320 healthy male volunteers in monogamous relationships with female partners were tested in health facilities all over the world to make sure their sperm counts were normal. Then, every eight weeks after, they received a 200-milligram shot of a synthetic testosterone and 200 milligrams of norethisterone enanthate (essentially a derivative of the female progesterone and estrogen).
The idea was that these synthetic hormones would convince the male body that it didn’t need to produce testosterone, meaning fewer sperm and less fertility.
The earliest results were positive: the shot held sperm counts at 1 million or fewer per milliliter within 24 weeks for 274 of the participants.
But things went downhill from there. Serious negative side effects began to develop in the participants, including depression, abnormal heartbeat, injection site pain, acne, and more. A total of 1,491 adverse effects were reported, and 20 of the original participants dropped out before the study was completed.
With mounting evidence that, despite its relative effectiveness, the contraceptive was causing far too many dangerous side effects, the study was called to a halt in 2012.
Despite all this, 75% of the study participants said they would still be willing to use the hormonal contraceptive even after the study was complete. (Not surprising, really, since testosterone “makes men feel pretty good,” noted one of the study leaders.)
It’s not likely that a male version of the Pill will debut at a pharmacy near you anytime soon. Still, research into hormonal contraceptives for both men and women is a vital part of giving couples more control over their own fertility and family planning. Studies like this get us one step closer to cracking the hormonal code.