Is there ever going to be a male birth control pill?

- asks Margaret from University Heights

How successful will male birth control pills be? [CREDIT: HEALTH.COM]
By | Posted August 27, 2007
Posted in: Ever Wondered?, Health
Tags: , ,

It’s Friday night. You’re meeting your best girl, Lorraine, down at the River Bottom Jamboree at eight. But, before deciding what to wear, you want to make sure your sperm count is as low as it can be, just in case you and Lorraine decide to go “parking.”

So you find yourself immersed from the waist down in scalding hot water, eyeing a thermometer as the mercury bobbles around 116 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature dips, you tighten your jaw and add a bit more boiling water, hoping the heat will sufficiently stop your sperm production. Forty-five excruciating minutes later you rise-up out of the tub, rosy cheeked and temporarily infertile, staving off fatherhood for another night.

Sound familiar? No? Well, men have done this, and continue to do so, since at least the fifth century B.C. when the Greek physician Hippocrates noticed that applying heat to male genitals lowered fertility. It would seem that if men are willing to endure such tortures, it means they want more control over the baby making process. They may soon get it.

While modern medicine – in the form of intrauterine devices, cervical caps, diaphragms, patches, pills, and sponges – has contributed to an age of reproductive control for women, it has largely left the procreating male in his cave.

Hot bath option excluded, men have but two realistic options for preventing unplanned pregnancies: wearing a condom or simply turning the tap off forever. Within a few years, however, men in the U.S. may have the added alternative of using a hormonal contraceptive that would lower or eliminate their sperm count by raising the body’s level of testosterone.

Testosterone levels in the blood determine how much sperm a man will produce. In a healthy male, the testes receive hormonal signals from the pituitary gland directing them to increase sperm production. As they follow their orders, the testes release testosterone and the hormone inhibin into the blood where they are detected by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus. At high levels, inhibin and testosterone cause the pituitary to turn off its signal to the testes, which causes the sperm count to drop, testosterone levels to sink, and the “negative feedback” loop to begin all over again. The result of this cycle is a steady, continuous level of sperm.

A hormonal male contraceptive would work by artificially raising the level of testosterone in the blood, thereby tricking the pituitary gland into thinking that plenty of sperm has been made, causing it to turn off the testes’ sperm production. As a result, the number of sperm in the body drops, and the chances of an egg being fertilized after sex are reduced.

Studies indicate that, if they reach the market, male hormonal contraceptives will lower sperm counts to less than 1 million sperm per milliliter, the threshold that defines male infertility, thereby far surpassing condoms and even the female pill in its reliability. In clinical trials, men have regained normal sperm counts within six months of terminating the treatment. Despite the possibilities, researchers predict that whether or not men will seize this new control over their fertility will depend on how the hormones are administered.

As with hormone treatments for women, there are many options for how to get the drug into the body. At the moment, researchers are experimenting with injections, a daily pill, and a temporary hormone-releasing implant placed just beneath the skin. It remains unclear, however, which would be most effective.

In addition, increasing testosterone levels can cause some of the same negative side effects that women who use birth control commonly endure, such as acne and weight gain. A marketed version of hormone treatment for men will likely include a combined dose of progestogen and testosterone in order to balance out potential side effects.

So it’s true, a hormonal birth control for men is closer than ever to being a reality, but men, don’t get out of the tub just yet.

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on January 22, 2007. It was selected to reappear here by our editorial staff while we are away for summer vacation.

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  1. Is there any evidence that using hormones might damage the cells that make the sperm so that any children born later in life would be more prone to cancers, or neurological illnesses etc. ?

    I hope they are doing very careful tests on many generations of mice and report the results honestly.

    Les Feldman, January 22, 2007 at 3:11 pm
  2. The Wonders of Science!

    George Lee, January 23, 2007 at 1:58 am
  3. this website came up during one of my random google searches of “River Bottom Jamboree” and “Sperm Count” good job everyone!

    George Lee, January 23, 2007 at 2:23 am
  4. Nice article, good to read!..
    I just think of the consequences when a man controls birth of a child and he forgets the pill only once, then his girl will be pregnant, not he will be pregnant. so why don’t we try to even realise a pregnacy for men? ;-)
    By the way, women mostly say that the pill reduces acne (oestrogen is responsible).
    In contrast to that, testosterone in a pill for man could in a certain amount increase acne because the level of testosterone is responsible for acne.

    Lili Masuhr, February 4, 2007 at 10:31 am
  5. This would be great for my wife and I. She has a increased risk of blood clotting so she is not allowed to take anything with hormones(i.e. birth control, etc).

    Mike07, September 2, 2007 at 8:32 pm
  6. its about time men have to take some responsibility too. im tired of suffering the emtional physical burrden of preventing pregnacy alone

    cgreene, April 19, 2008 at 7:58 pm
  7. i was given bc pills by my gyno for my acne. It made my acne worse and i had alot of spotting for 3 weeks. They should come out with one for men to reduce stress for women. i don’t know why women have to endure so much to not have a baby or get a disease.

    inresponsetolilli, October 30, 2008 at 1:26 pm
  8. because god didnt want sum big muscle head having a period and getting emotional or bieng pregnant and tearing the house’s foundation apart

    sup, March 31, 2009 at 4:05 pm
  9. Women have uteruses, its up to them to stop the sperm from invading, not us procreating males

    -sperm

    BootyClap, August 19, 2009 at 4:29 am
  10. “its about time men have to take some responsibility too. im tired of suffering the emtional physical burrden of preventing pregnacy alone
    cgreene, April 19, 2008 at 7:58 pm”

    You have the responsibility because you have the rights. Beyond conception men have no reproductive rights at all.

    “They should come out with one for men to reduce stress for women. i don’t know why women have to endure so much to not have a baby or get a disease.
    inresponsetolilli, October 30, 2008 at 1:26 pm”

    Reducing stress for women is not a legitimate reason for making a pill. Yes, the pill made your acne worse, but if you were a guy you would’ve been more likely to have bad acne anyway (testosterone). And the reason women endure so much to not have a baby or get a disease is because they *are* women. Men don’t get to choose to have a baby, nor do they get anywhere near the amount of sexual offers the average woman does. There are upsides and downsides for both sexes. If you woke up tomorrow as a boy, you may find that you no longer have to worry about getting pregnant… because nobody wants to sleep with you.

    Petra, November 5, 2009 at 1:11 am
  11. Men need to have a pill.
    I am sick of having the mood swings, acne, cramps, and weight gain. The pill reacts to every womans body differently and would do the same for men. Men would love to have the choice to be able to take a pill to not get a woman pregnant. Many women try to trap their man by getting pregnant and this way if she says she is on the pill but is not, he will know 100% that since he is taking BC he wont get her pregnant. It is also annoying to have to go to the gyno every year to have a doctor scratch my vagina just for a pill that should be over the counter. Not to mention doctors try to tell every woman they should get more STD testing done $$$$, need their breasts examined $$$, and probably have HPV $$$$(from a man…another worry women have that men don’t). It is extremely expensive and a huge stress if you don’t have insurance. Men and women should be 50/50 responsible in preventing pregnancy, and sharing the annoyances of having to pay for BC as well as getting all the side affects (which men always complain about–her mood swings). A lot of men hate wearing condoms and would probably prefer to take a pill. I guarantee doctors could come up with a safe pill for men to take. They make so much sperm anyway, I am in no way concerned with my boyfriend not being able to produce a child in the future or get cancer because of a pill. It gives just the same kinds of health risks to women everyday…who usually take the pill for 20+ years. Men really need to take some resonpsibility in life. They get most of the perks with sex already, the least they could do is give their spouse/girlfriend/partner a break from all the side affects she has to endure with the pill she has. As far as responsibility…most men are great with doing things on a routine, such as working out, eating healthy, playing a sport, im sure they could find a perfect time to pop a small pill and do some good for the world.

    WHY DOES A WOMAN DOCTOR NOT CREATE THIS PILL!!!!!

    Valerie, January 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm
  12. Valerie said, “Men really need to take some resonpsibility in life. They get most of the perks with sex already, the least they could do is give their spouse/girlfriend/partner a break from all the side affects she has to endure with the pill she has. As far as responsibility…most men are great with doing things on a routine, such as working out, eating healthy, playing a sport, im sure they could find a perfect time to pop a small pill and do some good for the world.”

    This mentality right here is the problem. As your typical care free irresponsible male who enjoys playing sports, having sex, and doing it all without any responsibility or side effects, I’m offended that you’d suggest I take any responsibility and “do some good for the world.”

    Alright, now let me be real. Take some responsibility in life? Are you high or just ignorant? I’d be ok with your statement if you said take some responsibility in the birth process, and if you women would allow us men to have reproductive rights we’d take them, but we’re held hostage as soon as our sperm fertilizes your egg. The second that happens, you have 100% of the chosing power and can make unilateral decisions that affect our lives. Take responsibility? I’d love some! Give up your 100% decision making power!

    We get all the perks from sex… I can’t even reply to this. Oh, and as for giving their partner a break from the pill … no, no, no, no, NO. Don’t you get it? This isn’t about “now it’s the man’s turn!” It should be “now it’s everyone’s turn.” Everyone should be making the sacrifice. You whine about equality, but as soon as something comes out which would allow for that, you want to quit and let the other person do it… where’s your equality?

    Do some good for the world? You know you could keep your legs closed if you didn’t want kids… you know that, right? The second a woman spreads her legs she’s complicit in making that child, so you talk about responsibility, you’re responsibile, and we’re just now seeing an age where, scientifically, the pill will become available for men too, but instead of being happy, you’re here whining and crying.

    Can we have a pill to stop you from whining, crying, and being irrational and overly emotional, please?

    WHY DOES A MAN DOCTOR NOT CREATE THAT PILL!!!!!

    Some Irresponsible Guy?, April 1, 2011 at 10:09 am
  13. this was a good article. i really hope the pill comes soon. i had no idea that men used to do that to kill their sperm count. yikes

    d, November 27, 2011 at 11:39 pm
  14. let’s just speak the truth.
    all this medications are a cancer for our bodys.
    its just bether to not take pills at all.
    unless u need medication to live.
    i mean yes.
    if u dont want baby’s then both the man and the woman share” responseabilty
    but this doesnt neccesairly mean a male pill is the answer and neither is the opposite of that.

    hiepla, October 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm
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