By Anna McLeod, Editorial Intern
Historically the responsibilities of family planning have largely been carried by women. Many of the most common forms of contraceptives including oral contraceptive pills and long-acting reversible contraception are targeted towards women. While there are a plethora of options available for people with uteruses, negative side effects, lifestyle, and financial factors can restrict the use of contraceptive methods.
Considering the factors above, let alone the potentially life threatening experience of both pregnancy and childbirth, it’s about damn time men took on some of this responsibility.
A Gap in the Market
Long-acting reversible contraception, or LARCs, are an extremely effective option to prevent pregnancies. I like to think of LARCs like a crockpot: turn it on, do some occasional upkeep, and enjoy a stress-free cooking (or contraceptive) experience. But at the end of the day, there’s no bun in the oven. LARCs currently on the market include hormonal and non-hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs), contraceptive injections, and implants. While LARCs have boosted autonomy and empowered people with uteruses around the globe, the market is lacking a male counterpart.
Current Prospects for Male Contraceptive
Currently, male birth control methods include vasectomies, external condoms, and the (iffy at best) pull out method. Limited funding and biological factors (females release 1-2 eggs a month while males produce millions of sperm each day) have acted as barriers to male contraceptives in the past. Yet with increased research and development of male contraceptive methods, the scales are shifting in favor of a more balanced distribution of family planning efforts.
One male contraceptive method currently undergoing clinical trials by The Center for Male Contraceptive Research and Development is NES/T. NES/T is a topical gel containing a combination of the hormones nestorone and testosterone that is applied daily to the shoulders. NES/T enters the bloodstream through the skin and works by suppressing sperm production, while maintaining normal testosterone levels. Additional hormonal methods of male contraception currently undergoing research utilize dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU). Similar to female birth control pills, DMAU pills are taken orally every day. An injectable version of DMAU is currently undergoing research as well.
Several non-hormonal options are also in various stages of development. ADAM is a non-hormonal long lasting injectable male contraceptive. This hydrogel works by physically stopping sperm from leaving the body and takes less than 30 minutes to implant. Effective for at least 1 year and free from any removal procedure, this hydrogel is the perfect example of a long-acting reversible birth control method requiring minimal upkeep. YCT529 is another non-hormonal compound that prevents pregnancy by targeting proteins involved in sperm formation. The compound has been found to be 99% effective in mice and is expected to enter human trials in the near future.
A Promising Future
In addition to the options mentioned above, many compounds are still being explored. While still years away from entering the market, these developments are paving the way for individual control over fertility. In a post-Dobbs world where contraceptive access continues to be threatened in the United States, male contraceptive options also create an opportunity for men to get involved in the fight for reproductive rights. And it’s not just women who support increased male contraceptive options. According to a consumer research study completed by the Male Contraceptive Initiative, 82% of men whose partners experienced an unplanned pregnancy in the past are interested in new methods of male contraception. Male contraceptives are a crucial step in the direction of equitable sharing of family planning responsibilities and ultimately reaching reproductive autonomy for all.