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We gripe about our birth control options, but women have a wonderland of choices compared to men, who have only three ways to go: condoms, vasectomy, or abstinence. No wonder 82 percent of guys say they wish they had more methods to choose from. So what’s taking so long?
A lot of the challenge is biological. Men make about 1,500 sperm every second while a woman releases just one egg per month. “If we suppress her ovulation by 98 percent, she only ovulates two months out of a hundred,” says John Amory, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington who has been researching male contraception for 15 years. “If we suppress 98 percent of a man’s sperm count, he could still have one million remaining.” Another problem: Men are never not fertile. “Female hormonal methods work by mimicking the natural pause in fertility women experience while pregnant,” adds Dr. Amory. “There is no such pause for men.”
Side effects are another obstacle. Despite the desire for more options, 63 percent of guys wouldn’t use or even consider using a method if there was a chance that it might cause weight gain or acne - yes, you read that right. “Guys are just wimps,” concedes Drew Pinsky, MD, host of Dr. Drew On Call and Loveline. “This is stuff women routinely go through, yet I find most men will choose to forgo any method if they find it comes with side effects. They don’t have the same motivation.”
Researchers at universities and nonprofits, supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, are pursuing methods including both hormonal and nonhormonal pills, topical testosterone gels that suppress sperm production, and injections of polymer gel near the testicles that block the tubes that transport sperm. A German inventor even announced plans this year for a so-called dick switch, an implant in the scrotum that would allow a guy to literally turn his sperm ducts on and off.
Unfortunately, none of these options will be available anytime soon. Obtaining FDA approval and bringing a product to market requires the resources of a pharmaceutical company, and none have shown interest so far. In 2006, drug makers Schering AG and Organon abandoned clinical trials on a male hormonal method - an annual implant with three monthly injections - because it was “unlikely the product would be acceptable for widespread use,” according to a press release. Fear of litigation may be another factor. “There are well-known risks associated with female contraception, but they are accepted because the risks during pregnancy are so much higher,” says Dr. Amory. “Men have no physical risks associated with pregnancy, which makes any side effect difficult to justify.”
Still, 3 out of 4 guys would at least consider using a method that required them to take a pill every day or required an injection in the arm every few months. And more than half are willing to consider a method that includes hormones to decrease sperm production. “As a single guy, it would be really nice to have another option that I have more control over,” says Cameron Rementer, a 27-year-old grad student who has participated in two of Dr. Amory’s clinical trials, one consisting of a daily pill and the other a topical gel. “Women have been taking similar methods with success for more than 50 years. Why not consider it if it could give me extra peace of mind?”
This article was originally published as “The Quest For The Male Pill” in the May 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan.