Back in 2016, we reportedly came close to having a male birth control shot that was nearly 96 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. The only problem was that the clinical trial of 266 men (of which, only four had gotten a woman pregnant during the study) stopped enrolling men in it early because too many of them couldn’t stand the mood swings, acne, changes in libido and other side effects.
Now, a number of scientists including Stephanie Page, a researcher and endocrinologist at the University of Washington, are coming out of the woodwork to assure men that all hope is not lost. And this time, variety may be the name of the game.
“We would like to create a menu of options for men similar to what women have available to them,” Page told NPR.
For instance, a topical gel that men can apply on their shoulders has been yielding encouraging results. By using a combination of synthetic testosterone and progestin, the treatment basically tells the brain to slow natural testosterone production, and by extension lower your sperm count.
Page is currently testing the gel on upwards of 450 couples so far, and she is optimistic that having partners involved will encourage men to stick with the study. “She’s taking on consent as well as him, and they’re really both participants,” Page explains.
While Page’s lab has ambitions to develop a male birth control injection in the future, her colleagues are also making progress. Take Brian Nguyen, an Ob-Gyn and professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, for instance, who is currently working on a male version of “the pill.”
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Aside from the increased variety of options, Nguyen suspects that men may be more willing to endure the side effects than they used to be. For instance, following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, there was an 850 percent increase in internet searches for “where can I get a vasectomy?”
Regardless of where people fall on the political spectrum, it’s possible that men are taking on more responsibility for family planning as a result. Experts like Nguyen are hopeful that this will trickle down for male birth control, at least for the guys “who really just want to support their female partners,” he told NPR.
Whether it’s gel, a shot, or a pill, it’s still a team effort.