- A new study found that male birth control pills worked to suppress sperm production and were loved by men.
- Researchers have been looking at alternative contraceptive options for men for decades.
- Insider spoke to three men who have tried different pill options through trials.
- For more stories, visit www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Two experimental male birth control pills are one step closer to hitting the market after a trial found they worked to suppress sperm production — and got high marks from the men who tried them.
Researchers say the drugs could be a promising alternative to the only male contraceptive options out there: condoms, which have a relatively high failure rate, and vasectomies, which are more or less permanent.
“The development of an effective, reversible method of contraception for men will improve reproductive options for men and women, have a major impact on public health by reducing unintended pregnancy and allow men to play an increasingly active role in family planning,” says lead researcher Tamar Jacobsohn. in a press release.
While researchers have been studying male birth control options for decades, the current trial was the first to look at these particular compounds in humans. They work by supplying the body with synthetic hormones that suppress the natural production of testosterone – and therefore sperm – without leading to the side effects of low T, such as erectile dysfunction, depression and reduced lean muscle mass.
The field as a whole has been slow to move options beyond research and to market due to issues such as a lack of investment from drug companies and a vague idea of what kind of product men would both take and want, the University of Washington’s researchers said. Center for Research in Reproduction and Contraception (CRRC) told Insider.
But the recently presented study, which involved about 100 men who took the pills for 28 days, found that 75% would take the pills again. Of the men who took a placebo (a dud pill), only 46% said they would take it again.
Three men who have tried such pills through trials at CRRC also told Insider that they had positive experiences. Here are their stories.
Storm Benjamin said he felt ‘mild euphoria and relaxation’ on the pills
Storm Benjamin was scrolling through Facebook when he saw an ad asking participants for male contraceptive trials. The 31-year-old Seattle musician doesn’t want children and had often heard from the women in his life — including his long-term partner — about the downsides of their birth control methods, such as acne and low libido.
“It always comes up that there’s no hormonal male option, and that’s always been in my head to some degree,” he said. When the ad appeared, he thought, “I can do something to get something on the market.”
So after responding to the ad and undergoing screenings at CRRC in 2018, Benjamin was sent home with “an advent calendar” of pills to take every day for 12 weeks after a high-fat meal. (Past research has shown that one of the included compounds is more consistently effective when taken with enough fat). He visited the clinic about once a month to provide sperm samples and basic tests. He was compensated the equivalent of approximately R25,000. The results are not yet public.
Benjamin said he experienced no negative side effects. “If anything, I got this feeling after taking the pills that I can only describe as mild euphoria and relaxation, which was really strange,” he said. The researchers told Insider that this could be a reaction to the synthetic hormones in the drugs.
Benjamin said one drawback was that each dose contained five or six large pills, which he hopes won’t be the case when it hits the market.
There were also some awkward moments, like when he went to the clinic to get a semen sample. “Everyone knows what’s going on and is trying to be professional about what’s happening,” he said, noting that the center provided “inspiring materials.”
Benjamin said his experience was so positive that he signed up for a new trial testing a male contraceptive shot, which ended in May 2022. He preferred the pills because the injections were painful.
He said the only thing stopping him from having a vasectomy is knowing it would deter him from participating in future studies. His partner has asked, “Why don’t you just have one?” said Benjamin. “And I thought, ‘Well, what if I can still donate my body to science?”
Rufaro Huggins felt compelled to contribute to women’s health after his wife’s traumatic birth
When Rufaro Huggins’ now-teenage son was born by emergency C-section, he felt helpless. He wasn’t even allowed in the room all the time.
A similar feeling surfaced when he and Kayla consulted with specialists about the potential risks of having a child again. “I realized there’s so much pressure on the woman,” both when planning children and going through pregnancy and childbirth, said Huggins, 40.
The couple decided against a second child, and Huggins decided to get involved in CRRC’s trials to “generally contribute to women’s health options,” he said.
Since 2016, he has participated in several pill trials, including those recently presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting. He said he didn’t notice any emotional changes, and the only physical one was a weight gain of two to three pounds. He is a long-distance runner training for a marathon and was able to maintain his routine while taking the pills.
Huggins, who works for Washington state, said he would have filed for another trial had the pandemic not interfered. The current threats to abortion access in this country make such participation particularly necessary, he said.
“I just feel there’s a lot more we can all do in society, but especially men, to make sure there’s balance and responsibility,” he said. Men should “do everything we can to make sure there’s less pressure on a woman to be responsible for the birth or not to give birth, or to decide whether or not to start a family.”
Steve Owens participated in male contraceptive studies for over 20 years
As young newlyweds who didn’t think they wanted kids, Steve Owens and his wife were unhappy with their long-term birth control options. They didn’t like the idea that she was on hormonal contraceptives for decades, and condoms “felt like deteriorating” as a married couple, Owens told Insider.
So when Owens, then in his 20s, heard on sports radio about a male contraceptive trial he could participate in, he jumped at the chance.
That was over 20 years ago, and Owens has since joined many such investigations that no longer have CRRC. He’s tried gels, implants, injections and for the recent trial, pills, taking occasional breaks to let his body recover and father the couple’s two children.
When Owens, a high school teacher, turned 50 in February, he was unable to participate and had a vasectomy.
He said the implant was the “coolest” birth control method he’s tested because he never had to think about it after it was inserted. The gels were his least favorite. “I don’t even use lotion, so that was a little annoying for me,” he said.
The social experiences are also positive. People tend to answer “that’s cool!” when he tells them what he is testing.
But Owens suspects the stigma surrounding male contraception and a lack of research funding — which go hand in hand — are holding all options back from hitting the market.
“I am a normal functioning person who has had a career and there is nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “I just think if more people knew about it, and knew how safe and effective it is, it could be that much closer to being out there.”