Could male contraception finally become a reality? That is what a group of Australian scientists believe; that a safe and effective method of male contraception will become available- a method that is free of significant long-term side effects.
For a long time now, the onus of contraception has been placed solely on females. In recent years, attempts have been made to bridge the gap in responsibility between men and women. In 2016, NPR reported that a study focusing on a male contraceptive in hormone form was essentially killed, after men in the study reported a plethora of side effects as a result of the hormone injection.
The irony is not lost. The implication suggests that men should not have to bear the burden of contraceptives, if they have to experience side effects. However, women have experienced countless side effects from contraceptive devices, including the pill, the IUD and other forms of birth control for decades.
The study was promising. Initial results suggested that the hormone injections would be 96% effective in preventing pregnancy. However, a slew of side effects including acne, mood swings and depression killed the forward momentum of the study. Even more so, previous efforts have had a drastic effect on sex drive, a consequence that some men seem to be unwilling to endure.
Of course, there was a great deal of eye rolling on the internet in response to the killed study. Memes were shared and strong opinions were articulated across various social media platforms. Women have experienced mood swings, decreased sex drive and weight gain as a result of decades of societally imposed birth control. Many people argued that like many things in life, women are expected to carry these kinds of responsibilities, which is a glaring example of institutionalized male privilege.
Some experts say, however, that the study was dropped for legitimate reasons.
According to Dr. Doug Colvard, Ph.D., deputy director of programs for Conrad (a co-sponsor of the study), "The men participating voted with their feet if they didn't find the side effects acceptable. They withdrew from the study," said Colvard. "But by far the vast majority of the men continued in the study even though they were experiencing mild or moderate adverse events."
Dr. Jennifer Gunter, OB-GYN, agrees that it is inappropriate to hyperbolize the ending of such a study. “This is an early study of a new drug, and there are so many things we don't know about it. You need to compare that with an equivalent study of birth control to have a comparison. But I don't believe that there's some kind of medical conspiracy to protect men from birth control side effects."
According to these experts, the dissolution of a trial is common in the world of drug research and development.
In the current Australian study, researchers hope that their form of contraception will have fewer potential side effects—a goal for any emerging drug breakthrough. This particular method focuses on two proteins that trigger the transport of sperm. By essentially deactivating these proteins, sperm will become unable to leave the body. This potential methodology is considered much safer than the so-called male contraceptive pill, which posed a great risk of side effects ranging from irreversible sterility to potential both defects.
"Previous strategies have focused on hormonal targets or mechanisms that produce dysfunctional sperm incapable of fertilisation, but they also often interfere with male sexual activity and cause long-term irreversible effects on fertility. With this non-hormonal approach, sperm are unaffected so the contraception is likely to be readily reversible once the medication has been stopped," said senior researcher for the Australian study, Sad Ventura.
If the current stage of the trial goes well, researchers are hopeful that clinical trials will start soon. If all goes according to plan, this male form of contraception could be on the market within 5-10 years.
If anything, this method sounds less radical than another potential form of male birth control. That method, as discovered by scientists, involves using African plant extracts traditionally used by warriors as a heart-stopping poison.
If past behavior is any indicator, most will likely opt for the radically safer and reversible form of contraception.