New York, NY. – Provisions from the Affordable Care Act and funding to public health centers like Planned Parenthood have given many women access to contraceptives without any out-of-pocket cost. Women today can choose from an array of oral, implantable, injectable, and even adhesive birth control options.
For men, however, there’s not a lot of selection when it comes to protection.
In fact, male birth control hasn’t really progressed for decades. Aside from the (much-discouraged) withdrawal method, the condom is essentially the only reversible birth control option for men. For heterosexual couples, this means that the responsibility of preventing unwanted pregnancies often falls on the woman.
But fret not, fertility-conscious fellows—this could all change!
According to a study published last week in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, hormonal birth control shots could be on the horizon for men. Results from the clinical trial found significantly lowered sperm counts in men who received the injection. Overall, the shot proved to be 96% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies for sexually active couples enrolled in the study.
However, the trial was stopped short after several participants complained of side effects—including mood swings, depression, acne, and pain at the injection site. The possibility of permanent infertility was also a concern. The study’s review board was particularly worried about the 3% of men who reported feeling depressed while on the regimen.
WHY THIS MATTERS
If we want to get serious about male birth control, more research will be necessary to balance efficacy and safety. According to Dr. Mario Philip Reyes Festin, co-author of the study, we shouldn’t expect to see approval for any kind of hormonal male birth control for several years.
Although safety is of top concern in the healthcare industry, the decision to stop the trial early has received a lot of public scrutiny. The complaints that raised concern, many say, sound a lot like the side effects women on hormonal birth control deal with all the time.
For instance, pain at the site of injection is a common side effect for women receiving the Depo-Provera injection. And one recent report found that using combined hormonal contraception, such as the pill, significantly increased women’s risk of depression. Not to mention the other side effects women can experience while taking hormonal birth control, such as weight gain, anxiety, and increased risk of blood clots.
For men and women alike, approval of long-term male birth control could prove to be an exciting development in the healthcare space. It has the potential to give guys more options and to redistribute the burden of family planning. And with the possibility that federal health policies could change in the coming years, the future of contraception is top of mind for many.
So can this shot pull through? Or will male hormonal contraception remain a long shot? As it goes in healthcare, only time, policy, and—don’t forget—clinical trials, will tell.