Since the first birth control pill was introduced in Australia in 1961, contraceptives for women have expanded to include a broad range of options — including more than 30 brands of the pill, as well as implants, injections, IUDs and diaphragms.
Male contraceptive options, however, have been much slower to progress, and are currently limited to condoms and vasectomy. And, while alternate methods have been explored, none have been approved for release. So, what does the future hold for male contraceptives and will more options ever become available?
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in male contraception in recent times was a clinical trial into the efficacy of a progesterone and testosterone combination injection. The trial included 320 males and their female partners, and all participants were healthy, with no known fertility issues or medical/mental illnesses. Each participant was given injections which aimed to suppress sperm cell development to less than or equal to 1 million per mL. The results found that of the 320 participants, 274 men achieved the required suppression within 24 weeks — meaning they were unable to conceive.
Commenting on the results, researchers said:
“The contraceptive efficacy is high, especially when compared with other reversible methods available for men, and is comparable with the efficacy of female oral contraceptive methods.”
While the results showed promise and 87.9% of participants said they would use the treatment as a contraceptive, the trial was cancelled due to safety concerns, after adverse side effects were reported by some participants. These included acne (45.9%), increased libido (38.1%) and mood swings/emotional changes (31.7%).
Commenting on the halting of the trial, study co-author Mario Festin said:
“More research is needed to advance this concept…Although the injections were effective, the combination of hormones needs to be studied more to consider a good balance between efficacy and safety.”
What other options are in the pipeline?
Various other male contraceptives are being explored, and are currently undergoing studies to determine their effectiveness and safety. One emerging option is Vasalgel, which is a long-lasting, non-hormonal and likely reversible gel that is injected into the vas deferens and blocks sperm. Results from a pre-clinical trial on rabbits have shown promising results, and a full clinical trial is due to launch this year. Also being explored are contraceptive gels which are applied to the skin, as well as a male pill which prevents sperm from fully developing.
If you or your partner is considering contraception, have a chat to your GP who can recommend the most appropriate option for you.