Newer birth control for men is beginning to fill the gap between the traditional condoms and sterilization.
One new technology involves inserting a hypodermic needle into the scrotum. It is said to decrease libido.
For men, contraception had remained fairly stagnant for the past century, primarily limited to condoms (85 percent effective when used correctly) and vasectomy, which is usually permanent. New methods are trying to move beyond centuries-old contraception applications, and some younger men say they are enthusiastic about the prospects.
But they want them to be safe.
“Contraceptives are necessary regardless of which partner is using them,” said Shane Sullivan, a senior at Colgate University in New York. But, “I’m adverse to solutions that may induce side effects.”
But as with contraception for women, methods free of side effects are hard to come by.
Nestorone-Testosterone is a hormonal birth control gel for men that’s been in the making for more than a decade. The gel is applied to the arms and shoulders every day and works to shut down hormones responsible for sperm production. But because it drops testosterone levels, reported side effects include a low libido or problems with ejaculation.
Meanwhile, scientists at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland have developed a daily birth control pill called DMAU. It lowers testosterone and sperm production, which decreases the likelihood of pregnancy, according to a study by the University of Washington Medical Center and at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California.
All participants who tried DMAU noted some weight gain and a decrease of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, “good” cholesterol responsible for healthy cardiovascular functioning).
“Despite having low levels of circulating testosterone, very few subjects reported symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency or excess,” said the study’s senior investigator, professor of medicine Stephanie Page at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“DMAU is a major step forward in the development of a once-daily ‘male pill,’” Page said. “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.”
Contraceptives such as Vasalgel block the vas deferens, or the tubes through which sperm travel, with the injection of a gel into the scrotum. The Indian developer of Vasalgel licensed it to non-profit company Parsemus Foundation in the U.S., which focuses its development on innovative but neglected pharmaceutical advances.
Vasalgel can last a few months to a few years. It has shown minimal adverse impacts and the developer calls it the “IUD for men” because it is non-hormonal.
Robert McLachlan, professor of men’s health at Monash University in Melbourne, found another injectable option for men. McLachlan designed an intramuscular shot delivered in the buttocks, increasing testosterone, which greatly reduces sperm production.
The most common side effects for the injectable hormonal contraceptive included acne, injection site pain, mood disorders, and an increased libido.
In a survey conducted with 134 young adults aged 18-27, of which 61 were male, their average likelihood of supporting male contraceptives was 8.6 on a scale from 1 to 10, (1 being the least likely and 10 being the most like to support.) Of all the respondents, 29 percent were quick to note that hormonal contraceptives for women already include the side effects that some of the newer drugs would present for men.
Brennan Sullivan, a 24-year-old research assistant from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (JHMI) noted the impact a male-dominated medical field has on women. He emphasized that “male contraceptives should not be seen as equivalent to female birth control,” and explained how many scientists have not considered these biological differences between men and women when developing medications.
Ahead of Food and Drug Administration approval for oral contraceptives for women in 1960, couples relied on withdrawal and condoms to prevent pregnancy. Soon, women on the early forms of the Pill began to complain of side effects that included hormone imbalance, weight gain, acne, and mood changes because of high estrogen levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), nearly 30 percent of users stopped oral contraceptives, and dosage was modified to balance contraception with user tolerance.
Despite successful findings and trials, the pharmaceutical industry thinks there is a relatively small market for male contraceptives, so it may be a while before these drugs actually hit the shelves. McLachlan noted the industry was “involved in this research until about five years ago and both the big companies that were involved — one pulled out [of research] about a decade ago.”
“Seeing as they’re the same side effects as most female birth control options, it’s not too bad,” said Pavan Devraj, a sophomore at the University of Georgia.
Jameson Carter, a research assistant at the Library of Congress, also expressed support.
“I think this stuff has to start somewhere. I understand it won’t be as convenient as just using a condom, given the side effects. I’d try it.”
Some men see birth control as an opportunity to be equally accountable for contraception.
“Men should absolutely engage in the same difficult choices that women do if they choose to engage in sexual activity,” said Mishka Naiker, 22 and a recent graduate from the University of Alabama. “Women are biologically more responsible for the existence and welfare of a child, even though the creation of a fetus takes both a man and a woman. That is the only time the responsibility is honestly 50/50.”
Wazir Hossain, a 24-year-old recent graduate from the University of Georgia, agrees and says it’s great for men to “have some form of control over the outcome of a situation and hold themselves accountable.”
Computer programmer Kaden Weaver, 23, expressed concerned about potential side effects.
“I am fully supportive of male contraceptive options similar to birth control, but… I feel as though things with these side effects don’t belong in the human body. ”
That attitude is not embraced in all parts of the world. The responsibility for family planning routinely falls to women, and contraception is not accessible to an estimated 214 million women in developing countries, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.