The burden of birth control has historically been placed almost entirely on women. Studies show that this contributes to gender inequality more broadly, and has negative effects on their mental, emotional, and physical health. But things may be changing. Here are the current options for male birth control and a possible breakthrough that may be available within the next few years.
- Condoms Condoms are the most common type of male birth control because they’re cheap, easy to use, and convenient to carry. They act as a barrier to prevent sperm from reaching the uterus, thereby preventing pregnancy. They also have the benefit of preventing STIs. As contraception, they are only about 87% effective, meaning that approximately 13 out of 100 people will get pregnant in one year of using them. For STI prevention, they are about 80% effective.
- Spermicide Spermicide is a type of chemical that helps prevent pregnancy by killing sperm before they reach the uterus. It comes in various forms, including gel, suppositories, cream, and foam. It is approximately 70-80% effective when used on its own, however, many people use it in combination with other methods such as diaphragms or condoms. You can purchase condoms that have spermicide already in them as well. Because it is a chemical, spermicide can cause irritation, particularly UTIs in women.
- “Outercourse” Outercourse is everything other than penis-in-vagina sex and is therefore nearly as effective at preventing pregnancy as abstinence. Opinions vary about what activities are included in outercourse, so it’s up to individual couples to choose the ones they are comfortable with. While pregnancy is unlikely with outercourse, it isn’t impossible. Wherever sperm is present, there is a danger that it could reach the uterus. While few couples choose outercourse as their primary method of contraception, it is a good alternative if you forget your condoms.
- Withdrawal Withdrawal is the next step up from outercourse in the chain of risk. It involves the person with the penis pulling out of the vagina before ejaculating. Timing is critical. In fact, it can determine whether or not you have an unwanted pregnancy. Because of this, it is only about 78% effective. Sex isn’t usually an activity where we exert the most self-control, so you have to trust each other implicitly and believe that the person with the penis knows their body extremely well. Even then, some people experience pre-ejaculation, meaning that sperm can enter the uterus without either person realizing it.
- Vasectomy A vasectomy is a surgical procedure that involves cutting or sealing the tubes that carry sperm. It is the ultimate barrier method, with nearly 100% effectiveness. While it can sometimes be reversed, there is no guarantee that the person will regain fertility. It is also expensive and carries some side effects, making reversal an unattractive option for many. If you and your partner do not want children in the future, it is an excellent way to prevent pregnancy, but it should not be considered a temporary method.
- Abstinence Abstinence involves refraining from intercourse. Like outercourse, people have varying definitions for abstinence, and effectiveness varies on the definition. For some, abstinence means no sexual activity whatsoever. If you opt for this definition, your chances of getting pregnant are zero percent. If you apply the definition of outercourse to abstinence, you have a small chance of getting pregnant. If sperm gets into the vagina, even without penetrative sex, there is a risk.
- A “male pill” is currently being developed In March of 2022, scientists from the University of Minnesota announced that a new method of male birth control is moving forward with clinical trials in the second half of the year. Called “the male pill,” it is an oral contraceptive that men will take in the same way that women have taken the contraceptive pill since it was approved in the 1960s. Unlike The (female) Pill, however, the male pill is not hormonal, meaning that it does not cause the physical and mental side effects associated with the current oral contraceptive taken by millions of women.
- It may not be available any time soon According to the scientists developing the male pill, it was 99% effective at preventing pregnancy in preliminary studies on mice. There is no guarantee that it will have the same result on humans, but the results are promising. The researchers note, however, that because oral contraception is not used to prevent disease, people are less tolerant to the side effects, and the safety of the pill will therefore be paramount in determining when and whether it is approved for public use
How The Male Birth Control Pill Will Affect Couples’ Sex Lives
A male oral contraceptive would revolutionize birth control and balance the scales of gender equity in pregnancy prevention. Here are a few reasons why we should all be cheering for its potential success:
- It makes just makes sense. Women can only get pregnant during a window of approximately six days during their 28-day cycle. Men, on the other hand, produce millions of sperm every day (1,500 per second) and are constantly fertile. It makes sense, therefore, that men should take at least as much responsibility for pregnancy prevention as women.
- Your ovulation will not be affected. The most effective methods of contraception for women work by preventing ovulation through hormonal intervention. This makes options such as the pill, hormonal IUDs, the injection, and the patch highly effective, but can also cause side effects. Plenty of women who take hormonal birth control never experience any issues, but others encounter a range of problems from weight gain and mood swings to migraines and blood clots. The fact that the male pill has the same level of effectiveness as most types of female hormonal birth control makes it a welcome opportunity to alleviate the side effects that women currently struggle with.
- It won’t affect testosterone. There have been several attempts to create male contraception over the years despite a “lack of interest by the pharmaceutical industry.” The latest version is the most promising, however, because unlike its predecessors, it is non-hormonal. Previous attempts prevented pregnancy by simultaneously lowering the production of testosterone and sperm count without causing low testosterone. As female contraception has shown, however, suppressing hormones has disadvantages. The current male pill is an exciting alternative because it works by suppressing proteins that are linked to sperm production, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of tampering with hormones.
- A hormonal option is unlikely to be developed any time soon. A previous clinical trial of a hormonal male contraceptive was halted due to the side effects it caused, side effects that bore more than a passing resemblance to the ones that millions of women experience on hormonal birth control every day. According to an independent panel, the mood swings and weight gain that some of the study’s subjects experienced did not make up for the benefit of preventing pregnancy. This double standard is irrelevant with the latest potential male contraceptive because it doesn’t affect hormones and has no reported side effects, even when tested at a dose 100 times higher than the effective dose.
- Some women may struggle to give up control of their contraception. Say what you will about the life-altering burden of the gender imbalance in birth control, but at least it puts pregnancy prevention in the hands of women. It is unclear whether women will be prepared to trust that their partners are taking the oral contraceptive given that there is no physical proof as there is with a condom. Long-term couples may be more likely to use the male pill than less committed couples due to their higher levels of trust.