Amid complaints from women about the negative side effects of hormonal contraception, work is underway in several countries including Sweden and the US to produce male birth control medication. This is being touted as the next big step in male contraception since the condom was invented hundreds of years ago.
An experimental drug called dimethandrolone undecanoate or DMAU, presented by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the annual Endocrine Society meeting in Chicago, is being touted as both safe and effective, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.
After a month-long trial involving 83 men, the once-daily pill was found to lower hormone levels, similarly to other forms of long-term contraceptives, without signs of testosterone deficiency. No major side effects were noted, and both liver functions and sex drive were claimed to be unaffected.
Nevertheless, the efficacy of male contraceptives is still being questioned. Firstly, the sample size is relatively small, as less than a hundred men were observed for a period of just one month, which may not be sufficient to pass judgment beyond reasonable doubt. Secondly, all the "guinea pigs" experienced a slight weight increase and a drop in healthy cholesterol, although the figures were found to be within reasonable intervals, as weight gain is not an uncommon side effect of birth control pills.
According to one of the authors, Stephanie Page of the Washington School of Medicine, it would be unwise to dismiss the findings based on hasty criticism. Page argued that there previously hasn't been any good opportunity to develop contraception methods for men and called DMAU "the best hope" for the moment.
"Long-term studies are now underway to confirm that a daily dose of DMAU blocks sperm production," Paige said, as quoted by Yle.
Another male contraception method currently under development involves a gel that contains a synthetic progestin called nestorone, which blocks the testes from making enough testosterone to produce sperm, as well as a synthetic testosterone in order to counteract subsequent hormonal imbalances.
The gel is to be tested in the largest clinical trial to date, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the non-profit Population Council and involving more than 400 couples in six countries around the world, including the US, the UK and Sweden. During the course of the experiment, men will rub the gel into their upper arms and shoulders once a day, whereupon researchers will track the gel's effectiveness at preventing pregnancy in their partners.
In Sweden, the trial will be administered by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Jan Brynhildsen, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, told Swedish national broadcaster SVT that researchers have been attempting to develop a reliable male hormonal contraceptive for about 40 years. According to him, the fact that such medication is not yet available is mainly due to economic reasons.
"The problem is and has long been that the main financiers who have conducted the research have been more non-profit and funding-based organizations like the WHO and the US Population Council, where the US has been the largest enabler," Brynhildsen told SVT, stressing that all funding for research associated with reproduction and abortions were withdrawn under President George W. Bush and now Donald Trump.
According to SVT, the interest in male contraception would be high among both men and women.
The Nordic countries currently have birth rates substantially below the world-average of 2.5 and lower than replacement levels. For instance, Finland's birth rates recently hit a 150-year low, whereas Norway's fertility rate has been decreasing for about a decade.