Who says that birth control is just for women?
Recently, a global clinical trial was conducted to test the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptive shots for men and it found that these shots successfully suppressed sperm production in approximately 96 percent of the male participants.
“The study found it is possible to have a hormonal contraceptive for men that reduces the risk of unplanned pregnancies in the partners of men who use it,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr. Mario Philip Reyes Festin of the World Health Organization in a statement about the research.
The trail lasted two years and recruited healthy male participants between the ages of 18 and 45 from Australia, Chile, Germany, India, Indonesia and the United Kingdom. Each participant was in a monogamous, long-term relationship with a woman and as couples, participants agreed to accept the low risk of pregnancy that the trial presented.
Participants reported experiencing mild but adverse side effects from the shots, including depression, acne, mood swings and muscle pain – all of which are minor side effects that women experience with taking the birth control pill. The bulk of these side effect complaints came out of a single study center in Indonesia, which has led some researchers to believe that cultural influences may have played into the participants’ perceptions of their physical and emotional reactions to the shots. Of the men who participated in the trial, nearly 75 percent indicated that regardless of side effects, they would be willing to continue utilizing these shots as a main method of contraception.
The World Health Organization realizes that more research needs to be done before hormonal shots can be marketed widely to men as a form of contraception to ensure safety and effectiveness. For more than four decades, researchers and scientists having been working to expand beyond the current male contraception options of condoms, withdrawal and vasectomy and to create a reliable form of hormonal contraceptives for men.
Women often feel as though too much responsibility for contraception falls upon their shoulder. In a 1999 study of about 1,900 women from China, Scotland and South Africa, participants indicated that they would trust their male partners to take a hormonal contraceptive (“the male pill”) to help alleviate this burden. A sister study of 1,300 males from these same countries found that the majority of men were welcoming towards the idea of taking a male pill, rather than using hormonal contraceptive injections.
For the duration of the trial, participants received contraception shots every eight weeks. After a certain low sperm concentration was hit, the couples agreed to rely solely on the injections for birth control. Of the 320 men initially participating in the study, 274 achieved sperm suppression that was low enough to rely on the shots as the sole method of birth control. Of those, 266 stayed active in the study, continuing to use the injection as their birth control. Only four participants ended up impregnating their partners during the study despite achieving sperm suppression, indicating an efficacy rate of about 2.2 pregnancies per 100 women involved with a man taking contraceptive shots for one year. This result stands in contrast to the pregnancy rate of about three to five pregnancies per 100 women for active condom users over the course of one year.
After the completion of the study, a majority of the participants were able to quickly regain their normal sperm count, while eight men took over one year to recover. Female hormonal contraceptives usually take about one week before they are reliable as an exclusive method of birth control, and a return to fertility takes just one to three months.
The results of this clinical trial, and the sheer possibility that male hormonal contraceptives might make it onto the market sooner than later, have the potential to reshape how the U.S. views and treats contraception. Hormonal birth control is currently considered a “women’s issue,” to be provided, paid for and used by a woman. Many companies and politicians are in agreement that birth control for employees shouldn’t have to be covered. But with the addition of male options for hormonal birth control added to the conversation, cultural acceptance of birth control could begin to expand nationwide.
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