Early trials of male contraceptive pills have seen almost complete success in preventing pregnancy, in what could signal a new age of shared contraceptive responsibility.
New research from the University of Minnesota has found a non-hormonal daily birth control pill, targeting proteins in the male reproductive system, works in 99% of male mice.
Usually, the contraceptive burden has fallen onto the woman, with the only available contraceptives on offer to men being condoms and vasectomies. Clinical research has focussed on finding more efficient and reversible options for men.
Most of the research had been focussing on male hormonal contraception, formulated as external gels, pills, and long-acting injections. However, as with female hormonal birth control, these came with side effects for some participants, says Dr Stephanie Page.
As Head of the Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition Division at the University of Washington, Page explained that weight gain and acne were most common.
However, according to the American Chemical Society, the University of Minnesota researchers wanted to find a different route, so men didn’t have to suffer these consequences. Some women have expressed frustration with this approach, as female contraceptives have arguably worse side effects.
“There’s always been so much pressure put on women,” says Maisie Holdsworth, 22, who had to stop taking the combined pill after it caused severe mood swings. “No-one seems to be that concerned about the number of struggles that come with female hormonal birth control. Some get strokes and blood clots.”
However, Dr Stephanie Page explained that the ethics are different for men.
“It’s more complicated … not because the issue is less important, but because there are no direct health consequences for the man.”
Since the woman carries the child, and must risk pregnancy, male birth control and its side effects is unchartered territory in clinical health. So, while this pill would bring equal contraceptive responsibility, inequality appears to remain ingrained in the issue.