Everything You Need to Know About Male Birth Control

February 07,2023 |
Man and woman walking down a road.

The male reproductive system includes the testes, the vas deferens, the prostate gland, and the penis. The testes produce sperm and testosterone, the vas deferens carries the sperm from the testes to the urethra, the prostate gland adds a fluid to produce semen, and the penis delivers the semen out of the body during ejaculation. During sex, the semen travels through the cervix and fertilizes the egg. If a couple does not want to reproduce, birth control is necessary. There are several types of birth control methods, each of which works in a different way to prevent pregnancy. However, most of these are targeted towards women. Hormonal birth control (the pill, injections, patches), barrier methods (condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps), and intrauterine devices (IUDs) have long been the standard, but thanks to developing research, options targeted towards men are being discovered and tested. Here, we’ll go over everything you need to know about male birth control.


The Current Options for Male Birth Control

Unfortunately, there aren’t many options currently available for male birth control. In fact, there are only two: condoms or a vasectomy. Condoms are the most widely used method of male birth control. They act as a barrier to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. Unfortunately, condoms aren’t always foolproof. They can break, rip, or even come off during sex. This can result in the need for emergency contraception, which is taken by the woman.

Alternatively, men can undergo a vasectomy. A vasectomy is a surgical procedure that cuts or blocks the vas deferens, the tubes that carry sperm from the testes to the urethra. This prevents sperm from being ejaculated out of the body, effectively sterilizing the man. Since this is a surgical procedure, vasectomies require a period of recovery. Although vasectomies can be reversed, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be able to reproduce afterwards. There’s always the risk of the vasectomy reversal failing which would leave a man sterilized. For this reason, many are reluctant to undergo them.


6 Hopeful Developments in Male Birth Control

Society has a long history of expecting women to take primary responsibility for birth control, thus explaining why there are only two current options for men. This expectation has led to a lack of interest in developing new methods. Additionally, some men in the past may have felt uncomfortable with the idea of taking “birth control” as it has been stigmatized as a female’s responsibility. This has limited the development of male birth control methods and decreased the amount of funding researchers have received.

However, thanks to society’s changing viewpoints and the increased awareness of male fertility, more men are becoming interested in what they can do to play their part in reducing unwanted pregnancies. Therefore, several researchers have been working on developing new and effective methods of male birth control. Some methods, such as Vasalgel, are in advanced stages of testing and could be available in the near future. For more information, consider some of the following promising developments in male birth control options.


1. Hormonal Methods

Several hormonal methods for male birth control are being researched, including injections, gels, and pills. These methods work by reducing the amount of sperm produced. One of the most recent developments has been with dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU).

DMAU is an investigational hormonal contraceptive for men that is being developed by researchers. It is a form of androgen, a class of hormones that includes testosterone. This is similar to the hormones that are used in female hormonal contraceptives. DMUA is a combination of dimethandrolone (a form of synthetic testosterone) and undecanoate (a long-chain fatty acid). Dimethandrolone works by suppressing the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) which are responsible for stimulating the testes to produce testosterone and sperm. This leads to a decrease in testosterone levels and a decrease in sperm production, ultimately preventing pregnancy.

DMAU would be taken orally, but it’s still in the early stages of research and development. More studies are needed to determine its safety, efficacy, and long-term effects in humans before it can be made available for general use.


2. Male Birth Control Shot

Non-hormonal methods such as reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (RISUG) are under development. This is a long-acting male contraceptive method that works by physically blocking the sperm from leaving the body, but can be reversed if the man wishes to father a child in the future. Vasagel is the current name of the drug in development.

The procedure involves injecting a polymer gel called styrene maleic anhydride (SMA) into the vas deferens (via the scrotum) under ultrasound guidance. The gel coats the inside of the vas deferens, creating a barrier that prevents sperm from passing through. As mentioned, the procedure is reversible as the gel can be flushed out with a solution, which allows sperm to pass through the vas deferens again.

RISUG has shown promising results in animal and human clinical trials, and it's considered as a form of long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC). However, it’s still in the early stages of development and more research is needed.


3. Progestogen/Testosterone Shot

The male progestogen/testosterone shot is a type of hormonal male contraceptive that is currently being researched. It is a combination of progestogen, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone, and testosterone, which is administered via injection.

Progestogen works by inhibiting the release of gonadotropins, which are hormones that stimulate the production of testosterone and sperm. This leads to a reduction in testosterone levels and a decrease in sperm production. Testosterone is then added to the injection to maintain normal levels of the hormone and avoid the side effects associated with low testosterone levels such as reduced libido, muscle mass, and mood changes.

This method is also considered long acting and reversible. It’s effective for several months after a single injection and can be reversed simply by discontinuing use. However, more research is needed before this is available for public use.


4. Gendarussa

Gendarussa is a type of non-hormonal male contraceptive that is currently being developed. It’s derived from a traditional Indonesian herb called Gendarussa vulgaris, and works by inhibiting the transport of sperm through the vas deferens. This effectively prevents sperm from being ejaculated out of the body, thereby preventing pregnancy.

Gendarussa has shown to be effective in animal trials and has been tested in human clinical trials as well. It’s an LARC and is considered as a promising alternative to vasectomy as it can be reversed by flushing the vas deferens with a mild solution. However, Gendarussa is still in the development stage and not available for use as of now.


5. Epididymal Protease Inhibitor (EPIN)

An epididymal protease inhibitor (EPIN) is a type of male contraceptive that works by inhibiting the activity of enzymes called proteases, which are necessary for the maturation and function of sperm. Specifically, EPIN targets the epididymis, a small, coiled tube located next to the testicles where sperm mature and are stored before being ejaculated.

EPINs bind to and inhibit proteases in the epididymis, which prevents the maturation of sperm, making them unable to fertilize an egg. Once the EPIN treatment is stopped, the protease activity is resumed, and sperm production and quality return to normal. Currently, EPINs are still in the early stages of development.


6. “Clean Sheets Pill”

The term "clean sheets pill" is not exactly a scientifically accepted term, but rather a term used to describe how the birth control method works. The pill itself would essentially prevent ejaculation during intercourse thus leaving the sheets clean. This is done by temporarily paralyzing the muscles involved in ejaculation, which would prevent the release of semen and make fertilization impossible.

However, research for this pill has been stalled due to funding issues and the potential evaluation of risk and safety. Since the male reproductive organs are complex, researchers aren’t sure if the paralyzing effects would lead to further problems. Therefore, for now, this method is on pause.

As mentioned, most of these methods aren’t currently available or have not been fully tested. If they’re approved in the future, the best method for your circumstances may depend on your health and lifestyle habits, which is why it’d be important to work with your doctor. For now, men can continue using condoms or undergo a vasectomy. They can also work with their female partner to determine safe, agreed upon methods of female birth control.

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