Male contraceptive found effective in preventing pregnancies

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Between 2008 and 2012, there was a 1.2 percent increase in global pregnancies. According to Guttmacher Institute, a leading figure in tracking pregnancy-related trends, 40 percent of these pregnancies were unintended in 2012. In an effort to provide more options to male partners wishing to avoid unintended pregnancies, a male contraceptive has been tested and found to render promising results. Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism published a study that tested 320 healthy men from the ages of 18 to 45 in order to find the effectiveness of male contraception. The men were checked to make sure they had a normal sperm count and were cleared to have been in a monogamous relationship with a female between the ages of 18 and 38 for at least a year.

as well as 1,000 milligrams of a long-acting androgen to suppress the sperm count of the men involved in the study. The injections were given two times every eight weeks and the participants were required to provide semen samples after the eight and 12-week marks of the suppression segment to properly keep track of their sperm counts.

During the phase of sperm count reduction, the couples were asked to use other non-hormonal contraceptives in addition to the injection. When the men’s sperm counts were lowered to less than one million per milliliter, the couples were then asked to rely solely on the injection, which was administered every eight weeks for up to 56 weeks. After stopping the contraceptive treatment at the 56-week mark, the participants were monitored to see how quickly their sperm counts recovered.

The male contraceptive injection uses a long-acting progestogen and androgen to suppress sperm counts and stop pregnancy in the males’ female partners. Photo by: Cameron Steck

According to Urologist at the NYU Langone Medical Center Dr. Seth Cohen, when a man is given a shot of testosterone, the brain assumes the body has enough and shuts down its own production of the hormone. In combination with the progestogen, the brain is further tricked into stopping production of both testosterone and sperm.

The tests revealed that the contraceptive was effective in 96 percent of users and was capable of safely reducing the sperm count of 274 participants within 24 weeks. Of the 320 men tested, only four resulted in pregnancies with their partners. Of the four pregnancies, three resulted in live births with the babies being born healthy and without defects.

These promising results pave the way for a new form of birth control that could help diminish the global rates of unwanted pregnancy. The study, however, was put on hold due to a series of side-effects, which included depression and mood disorders. Some of the men also began reporting acne, increased libido, muscle pain and pain around the site of the injection. Due to these side effects, 20 men dropped out of the study. Despite the effects, the positive results of the birth control injection led to more than 75 percent of the participants reporting a willingness to use the injection as a primary method of contraception toward the end of the study.

Elisabeth Lloyd, a professor of biology and an adjunct professor of philosophy at Indiana University Bloomington, related the findings of the side effects of the male birth control to a study posted in late September in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The study revealed that 20 to 30 percent of women who take birth control experience depression and take medication to deal with it. Compared to the 3 percent depression rate that caused the study for male birth control to stop, the difference in female birth control is striking.  Conversely, a standalone effect was seen in one man who took the injection. He experienced abnormally fast and irregular heartbeats after the injection was stopped, a more valid reason for stopping the study instead of a depression rate less than the existing rate for female birth control.

One of the biggest selling points to this male birth control despite its side effects was its reversibility. Instead of the permanence of a vasectomy—a male surgical sterilization—the injections’ suppression of sperm subsides once the shot is no longer administered. After 52 weeks of recovery, the sperm suppression was reversed 94.8 percent per 100 users to a level that the World Health Organization considers fertile for men—a sperm count of 15 million per milliliter.  This is a major benefit for any birth control as the users of contraceptives do not usually want to permanently erase the option of future child rearing.

Although this initial study has ended, it holds great promise for the future of male contraceptives. With time and a little tweaking, male birth control could be the future of better family planning.