March 17th, 2015
Once the female birth control pill hit the market, the Sexual Revolution was in full swing. Since that time, scientists have been trying to develop a male counterpart to “the pill” without success. But why? How come there’s no male contraceptive pill yet? It has to do with the complexity of the male reproductive system. You can use low-levels of hormones to trick a woman’s body into thinking she is pregnant, and thus inhibit ovulation. But there is no equivalent to stopping a man’s body from producing sperm. Some studies have tried a hormonal approach but were halted due to a high rate of side effects. Another problem is that sperm production occurs on a 90-day cycle. That means that if you stop a man’s sperm production today, he would still be fertile for another three months. Researchers are now looking at the problem from other angles, such as making sperm unable to swim or obstructing fertilization.
Pharmaceutical companies are also a stumbling block. They are afraid of taking on liability. If a man takes such a birth control pill and it fails to work or he experiences side effects, he may sue. So scientists are hemmed in trying to develop a male birth control alternative that has few side effects, yet is effective. Some women are also wary as to whether their man will take a pill each day unwaveringly. Men are interested in such a form of contraception, at least in the U.S. One survey showed that 50% of men would take a male birth control pill if it were on the market today. Researcher Michael O’ Rand at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is working on a method that alters the protein Eppin which in turn interferes with how the sperm swim. If they can’t reach the egg fertilization cannot occur. An Indonesian team is working with an herbal remedy called Gendarussa, which also inhibits fertilization. This was discovered from a tribe in Papua New Guinea who make tea out of the herb as a method of birth control. The last method is Vasalgel. This is a polymer injected into each vas deferens tubule in order to block sperm from entering the semen. This chemical vasectomy is reversible and the closest one to FDA approval, which is still years away.