Birth control has historically fallen into the laps of women. We have the most to lose if we become pregnant during times we do not want to be. However, men share just as much a responsibility in preventing pregnancy so the search for a male birth control method has been studied in recent years.
A phase II clinical trial of 320 participants tested a two-hormone injection designed to lower their sperm count. The men received injections of 200-mg norethisterone enanthate (progestin) combined with 1000-mg testosterone undecanoate, administered every eight weeks.
“The first study participant was enrolled on September 4, 2008, and the last participant completed the study on May 30, 2012,” according to the study writeup. The study was sponsored by CONRAD and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The study showed that the injections were about 96-percent effective at preventing pregnancy in the 274 men who achieved adequate sperm suppression after 24 weeks of injections.
The cumulative reversibility of sperm suppression after 52 weeks of recovery was 94.8 percent.
There were only four pregnancies in the group of 266 male participants receiving injections who remained in the study.
Some men dropped out of the study due to side effects of increased acne, injection site pain, increased libido and mood disorders.
NPR reported, “Some men also developed mood swings and in some cases those mood swings got pretty bad. One man developed severe depression, and another tried to commit suicide. Because of that, they cut the study short.”
How is that men are not expected to put up with side effects while women have put up with them with for years in order to have an effective birth control method?
The issue is that taking birth control methods for women presents a different risk versus benefit analysis than it does for men, NPR points out. In essence, there is a double standard . And that difference comes out in determining safety for men being treated for birth control suppression.
For women, getting pregnant means the risk of the pregnancy itself, in terms of her health and her ability to continue her career. For men, they have little risk if someone else gets pregnant. It physically won’t affect them and they do not have to leave their job if a woman gets pregnant.
It is true that controlling contraception in men and women is really different.
In women, birth control is about blocking one egg from being fertilized and implanting once a month.
In men, sperm are produced daily and even in this study, not all the men responded to sperm suppression with the injected hormones.
Out of 320 men who started the study, 274 who made it to the next stage had their sperm counts sufficiently suppressed — about 85 percent — which had to be confirmed by sperm counts performed in a lab. It is also worth noting, there was no control group in this study to compare efficacy against.
Of the couples who participated to the end of the trial, “more than 75% reported being at least satisfied with the method and willing to use this method if available, which supports further development of this approach,” according to the study writeup.
Some men even voiced disappointment that they would not be continuing to receive the drugs from the study.4
NPR reported that there is still hope that birth control research for men will continue. "We're gonna keep trying," but they're still a decade away from coming up with something for men.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in women’s health care and quality of care issues.
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Male Birth Control Study Killed After Men Report Side Effects. NPR. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
2) The Different Stakes of Male and Female Birth Control. Atlantic.com. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
3) Behre, Hermann M. et al. Efficacy and Safety of an Injectable Combination Hormonal Contraceptive for Men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 101: 0000–0000, 2016. Received May 18, 2016. Accepted August 29, 2016. doi: 10.1210/jc.2016-2141.
4) Male Hormonal Contraceptive Effective in Preventing Pregnancy. Conrad.org. Retrieved November 6, 2016.