HISTORICALLY, the burden of contraception has always been assumed to be the responsibility of women, but a new experimental pill could be the game-changer.
An overseas study has shown that a new birth control pill for men appears to be safe when used daily for a month, with hormone responses consistent with effective contraception.
The news has spread like wild fire in the US, sparking debate on whether or not the world is really ready for the “male pill”.
“In many cultures and communities attitudes towards contraception are evolving: there is a growing sentiment that men should be more involved as far as contraception in a relationship is concerned,” a South African urologist Dr Amir Zarrabi.
Zarrabi said the fact that no safe, reliable and reversible method of male contraception had been available to date, did not make female contraception the “more convenient” choice in most men’s minds.
“A fully reversible male contraceptive, which is also reliable and without major side effects, is likely to be a game changer in the field of contraception.
“Unfortunately, we are not there just yet – the new male contraceptive pill is still in very early phases of testing,” he said.
Earlier this month researchers from the University of Washington presented their study into the pill – called dimethandrolone undecanoate or DMAU – at the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago.
The pill combines the activity of an androgen – or rather a male hormone like testosterone – and a progestin and is taken once a day.
A total of 83 men aged between 18 and 50 participated in the study, including giving blood samples, for hormone and cholesterol testing.
“DMAU is a major step forward in the development of a once-daily ‘male pill’,” the study’s senior investigator, professor Stephanie Page said.
“Many men say they would prefer a daily pill as a reversible contraceptive, rather than long-acting injections or topical gels, which are also in development.”
The investigators tested three different doses of DMAU – 100mg, 200mg and 400mg – and two different formulations inside the capsules, castor oil and powder.
At the highest dose of DMAU tested, 400 mg, subjects showed “marked suppression” of levels of their testosterone and two hormones required for sperm production, luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone.
The low levels, Page said, were consistent with effective male contraception shown in longer-term studies.
“Despite having low levels of circulating testosterone, very few subjects reported symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency or excess,” Page said.
But all groups taking DMAU did have weight gain and decreases in HDL (“good”) cholesterol, both of which Page said were mild.
All subjects passed safety tests, including markers of liver and kidney function.
“These promising results are unprecedented in the development of a prototype male pill,” Page said.
“Longer term studies are currently under way to confirm that DMAU taken every day blocks sperm production.”
But even with these promising results from DMAU, there still remains the question of whether men would take to it or not.
Zarrabi is a little sceptical.
“In my personal opinion the uptake among men will initially be slow.
“A change in mindset will not occur overnight and as we know contraception has been seen as primarily the responsibility of the females for a very long time,” he said.
“Some men also see contraception as equivalent to permanent sterilisation and even castration.
“Obviously this is an uninformed opinion but this too will be a barrier to widespread acceptance,” he said.
In the meantime, men wanting to take the responsibility of contraception into their own hands still have the option of a vasectomy.