News headlines have been suggesting imminent availability of hormonal contraception for men for the last two decades. So, how real is a male 'pill' or equivalent hormonal contraceptive method for men? asksToni Belfield, Director of Information, fpa (formerly called the Family Planning Association)
Finding a method that effectively blocks the production of sperm, which is easily reversible, safe and with no major side-effects was always going to take time. Research has attempted to find such a method since the 1960s, but has been held up by the technical difficulties of stopping the production of sperm. This is a highly organised 'conveyer-belt' process lasting about 70 days from sperm development to ejaculation.
Increasing contraceptive choice for men is now almost a reality and more than just a research promise with the development of two new hormonal methods for men - a contraceptive pill and a contraceptive implant.
The scientists carrying out the research in the UK, Dr Richard Anderson at the Centre for Reproductive Biology in Edinburgh and Dr Fred Wu at the Department of Endocrinology in Manchester are very hopeful: "This will finally prove whether a male pill is a figment of our scientific imagination, or whether it will become a reality within the next five to six years".
The research, funded by Organon, is testing both a daily pill and an implant in six different centres around the world. Men aged 18-45 are using either daily tablets or two tiny implant rods placed under the skin of the arm. Both methods contain the progestogen hormone, etonorgestrel (this is one of the hormones also used in some female contraceptive pills). They will be treated for one year. Because of the way the progestogen works by stopping the production of sperm and lowering testosterone, men using either the pill or implant will also need to have testosterone replacement to ensure they do not lose their sex drive. At present this is given as an injection every four to six weeks. Eventually the hope is to develop a dual method of hormone delivery.
Just as women have a number of different hormonal contraceptive choices today, it is vital that men have choice too. Implants are long-term methods that can be termed 'fit and forget'contraceptives, unlike the pill, which needs conscious thought each day to take it.
The next question of course is "will women trust men to take the pill?" The answer is a resounding 'yes', but (there is always a but isn't there?) trust is something that comes with committed relationships where talk and decisions are shared. For those still in the process of finding Ms Right, knowing about and importantly using condoms remain a must.
Page created on March 26th, 2002
Page updated on December 1st, 2009