Male Contraception – What’s in the Pipeline

Reproduction in humans is a two-way street – a sexual process that requires two partners. However, the methods developed so far to prevent it have more or less been designed only for the female counterpart. Till today, the only available contraceptive tool for males, except vasectomy which can sometimes be irreversible, is a condom.

For years women have been shouldering the burden of birth control predominantly because it is their bodies that will have to bear the consequences. However, as the human species is maturing, it is becoming more and more clear that just like the process of reproduction itself, the methods developed to halt it should also manifest a sense of partnership, a more just arrangement.

It’s not only about taking the burden off the women. It’s also about male autonomy. Undoubtedly condoms have good success rates but without a doubt, the social and financial responsibility of fathering a child can have a serious impact on the lives of men if things go wrong.

Therefore, in recent years, much research is being done to develop more male contraceptive options.

The Male Pill:

Just like the birth control pills being used by women around the world, research is currently underway to develop a once-a-day contraceptive pill for males. The male pill follows the same mechanism as the female pill – regulation of sex hormone in the body. It is made up of a steroid molecule that exhibits properties of the male sex hormone, testosterone, and progestin, the synthetic version of the female sex hormone, progesterone. The progestin works to reduce testosterone levels in the male reproductive glands, testes which in turn lowers the production of sperms.

One might ask then what’s the point of having testosterone properties in the pill as well? The answer is – to prevent side effects such as problems with ejaculation or low sex drive. While reduced levels of testosterone in testes get the job done, low levels of it in the bloodstream can have dreadful effects on a person’s sex life.

So how low a sperm count are we looking at here? Normally semen at the time of ejaculation may contain anywhere from 40 to 300 million sperms per milliliter. At least 20 million healthy sperms per milliliter are required for conception. Therefore, these pills aim at reducing the sperm count to 1 million per milliliter to prevent pregnancy.

The Contraceptive Gel:

 The good news about this one is that it is ahead of all other options in its clinical trials. Another plus point of it is that one can conveniently apply it on the arms and shoulders every day and the work gets done.

This gel also uses a similar hormonal mechanism as the pill and can cause similar side effects. Also, since the gel and the pill both use synthetic forms of testosterone, the efficacy of these hormonal options differs in men of different ethnic origins. The reason behind this is yet to be discovered.

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