Why we STILL Don’t Have a Male Contraceptive

The first female pharmaceutical contraceptive pill was approved by the FDA in 1960. That’s 57 years ago! With all the advances in medical research, why do we still not have a pharmaceutical contraceptive for men?

Too Much Risk with Too Little Reward

Surely there are many men who would love to have the sort of agency over their reproductive capacity that women have had for nearly 60 years. However, for-profit pharmaceutical companies allocate their research funds to the most profitable ventures, such as cancer medications or those that treat heart conditions. Although some non-profit and governmental groups, such as the NIH, are funding contraceptive research, they tend to look for a private-sector partner to share the financial burden of Phase 3 clinical trials. In addition to liability and profit concerns, the female contraceptive pill has about a 91% effectiveness rate; a male pill would have to be at least close to that range to be a viable option, and even worse, the marketing team would have to start from scratch.


Image: Syringe by Zaldylmg / CC by 2.0

Men Just Can’t Take the Heat

The most promising research into a pharmaceutical option has been hormonal contraceptives. In fact, researchers published a 100-person clinical trial in 2016 that showed that an injectable hormone treatment suppressed sperm concentration in 95.9% of the patients, with a pregnancy rate of 1.57% among their female partners. However, the study was called off early due to adverse reported effects, particularly severe depression. Other reactions included acne, injection site pain, changes in libido and mood disorders. To you women out there: does any of the sound familiar??? These researchers are now working on a treatment that uses gel instead of injection, so at least there will be no more boo-boos.


Image: Birth Control by Sarah Mirk / CC by 2.0

Other researchers are looking into gene therapy or investigating injectable polymers that prevent sperm from moving through the vas deferens. But for now, “the chemical burden for contraception relies solely on the female,” Assistant Professor Charles Easley, University of Georgia, told the MIT Technology Review. “That’s an unfair balance in the equation.”

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Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.