Male Contraception – What’s in the Pipeline

Reproduction in humans is a two-way street – a sexual process that requires two partners. However, the methods developed so far to prevent it have more or less been designed only for the female counterpart. Till today, the only available contraceptive tool for males, except vasectomy which can sometimes be irreversible, is a condom.

For years women have been shouldering the burden of birth control predominantly because it is their bodies that will have to bear the consequences. However, as the human species is maturing, it is becoming more and more clear that just like the process of reproduction itself, the methods developed to halt it should also manifest a sense of partnership, a more just arrangement.

It’s not only about taking the burden off the women. It’s also about male autonomy. Undoubtedly condoms have good success rates but without a doubt, the social and financial responsibility of fathering a child can have a serious impact on the lives of men if things go wrong.

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Therefore, in recent years, much research is being done to develop more male contraceptive options.

The Male Pill:

Just like the birth control pills being used by women around the world, research is currently underway to develop a once-a-day contraceptive pill for males. The male pill follows the same mechanism as the female pill – regulation of sex hormone in the body. It is made up of a steroid molecule that exhibits properties of the male sex hormone, testosterone, and progestin, the synthetic version of the female sex hormone, progesterone. The progestin works to reduce testosterone levels in the male reproductive glands, testes which in turn lowers the production of sperms.

One might ask then what’s the point of having testosterone properties in the pill as well? The answer is – to prevent side effects such as problems with ejaculation or low sex drive. While reduced levels of testosterone in testes get the job done, low levels of it in the bloodstream can have dreadful effects on a person’s sex life.

So how low a sperm count are we looking at here? Normally semen at the time of ejaculation may contain anywhere from 40 to 300 million sperms per milliliter. At least 20 million healthy sperms per milliliter are required for conception. Therefore, these pills aim at reducing the sperm count to 1 million per milliliter to prevent pregnancy.

The Contraceptive Gel:

The good news about this one is that it is ahead of all other options in its clinical trials. Another plus point of it is that one can conveniently apply it on the arms and shoulders every day and the work gets done.

This gel also uses a similar hormonal mechanism as the pill and can cause similar side effects. Also, since the gel and the pill both use synthetic forms of testosterone, the efficacy of these hormonal options differs in men of different ethnic origins. The reason behind this is yet to be discovered.


The acronym stands for ‘Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance.’ This is the non-hormonal method and a non-surgical alternative for vasectomy which in some cases can be irreversible. Keeping intact the reproductive tube which is cut in vasectomy, the vas deferens, this technique employs a synthetic chemical to block the tube and kill the sperms which enter it on their way to the penis.

Developed by a researcher in India, this polymer is non-toxic and effective right away. A man can get it injected and keep it in place till he decides to start a family. It can be removed just as easily with another injection which flushes the chemical out of the vas deferens.

Although there are chances that it will become commercially available in India in a few years, however for the rest of the world it might be a while as more trials are underway to evaluate its efficacy and safety.


Just like a woman’s Intrauterine Device (IUD), this is an external device, a plug that is placed in the vas deferens and it filters out any sperm that might want to pass through to reach the penis. It can be conveniently removed when needed. However, just like other male contraceptive options, this too is in its early phase of testing.


The male sperm goes through several stages of development before it matures. Even then it has to journey all the way from the testes to the penis to ensure it gets pumped into the female vagina. Many of these points offer the potential for researchers to stop the sperm from reaching the female body. Several types of research are being conducted to create non-hormonal, reversible male contraception (NHRMC) targeting areas like sperm production, transport, and motility.


Even though similar female birth control methods have been commonly available in the markets and are being used for decades now across the world, there are certain impediments in the way of making male contraceptives commercially accessible. Unlike the time when contraceptives for women were introduced some 50 years back, standards for acceptable side-effects have been raised considerably, and therefore severe side-effects like weight gain and decreased libido which were not considered significant enough back then today go beyond the thresholds approved by the health regulatory bodies.

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Moreover, since men don’t face the fatal risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth, the willingness to tolerate the side effects decreases even further among those in authority.

There are many reasons why the work in the arena of male contraception has been lagging behind for several decades now. However, the bright side is that the research is gaining pace as the world is becoming more and more equitable. Probably not for our generation, but hopefully the next generation of boys and men will be shouldering an equal responsibility of birth control with their partners as better, safer, and affordable options of male contraceptives become available in the market.

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