Tag Archives: contraception

How research on birth control could bring about a new era of contraception

There are many different birth control methods available at the moment – 12 methods in total, to be more precise, with scientists constantly working to expand the range of options. They’re designed to suit every lifestyle, and, used consistently and correctly, they are generally effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies. However, despite the wide variety of options, none of the methods we have so far is perfect.

From caps or diaphragms to condoms, contraceptive implants, patches, or IUDs, they all have their own disadvantages, and, what’s even more concerning, many of them come with significant side effects.

The good news is the scientific community has been working hard behind the scenes to address these issues and come up with new solutions in the field that will set the grounds for safer and more effective birth control in the future.

The need for better birth control 

Believe it or not, condoms have been around for over 5,000 years, so we can safely say they’ve proved their utility. With sales for Durex condoms and lubricants surging after COVID-19 restrictions have eased, it’s pretty obvious that condoms remain one of the most trusted birth control methods to date — and also one of the easiest and handiest to use. And yet, considering men don’t have a much better option for birth control after almost five millennia (vasectomy aside), we think it’s time to see some innovation in this area.

Women, on the other hand, have more options to choose from, but they all come at a price. For starters, none of these birth control methods guarantee 100% efficiency. There’s always a chance, although slim, of getting pregnant when using the pill or other form of contraception. Research shows that the pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancies if used correctly, and 91% effective with typical use.

Also, there’s some degree of inconvenience associated with many of the current birth control methods, not to mention the financial implications, making them less accessible to women living in disadvantaged areas. But probably the most important factor to consider is represented by the unpleasant side effects that many women experience when using hormonal contraceptives. These side effects range from mild symptoms such as irregular bleeding, bloating, and headaches to more serious issues like missing periods, high blood pressure, or depression.

Why there’s still not enough birth control for men

The fact that there are only two male birth control options available at the moment, leaving women to bear the burden of using contraceptives and dealing with their negative effects, has sparked discussions over gender inequalities in health research. So, the obvious question here is why we don’t have more birth control methods for men yet.

A study conducted in the early 2000s found that over half of the men interviewed from a total of 9,000 were open to the idea of trying a contraceptive method that would prevent sperm production. So, the issue is not the lack of interest in trying something new, but the technical barriers posed by human biology.

There have been numerous attempts at developing a male variant of the birth control pill, but most of them failed either due to lack of efficiency, or because they produced serious side effects such as depression or mood disorders, so scientists are still struggling to find viable solutions in this respect.

A new era of contraception is on the horizon  

So far, we’ve only exposed the bad side of the contraceptive industry, but it’s time to stop dwelling on the negative and look into the future, where new research promises to address some of the most pressing birth control issues.

A new take on the traditional birth control pill

Since the female birth control pill was introduced in the 1960s, not much has changed about the way it works. It has been widely used by women all around the world as the preferred method to prevent pregnancy and also for treating a series of health-related issues. However, the hard-to-ignore side effects and the fact that you have to take it every day for it to be 99% effective, make it a less than ideal form of contraception.

Fortunately, the traditional pill is about to get a makeover with scientists working on developing a once-a-month oral contraceptive pill. A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already put this idea into practice and started animal testing for the pill. If it’s going to pass all the tests, this pill could provide three weeks’ worth of hormonal medication.

Bringing male birth control into the equation

Men have been left out of the birth control equation for way too long, but researchers at Parsemus Foundation have found a way to restore balance. They have developed Vasalgel, a birth control method that involves injecting a gel into a man’s vas deferens to stop the flow of sperm during ejaculation. The effects of the procedure can last for more than 10 years, but they can also be easily reversed if needed. The product isn’t available yet, since it’s still under trial, but results so far have been promising.

Fertility-tracking apps

Although fertility-tracking apps are not exactly a birth control method, they can be extremely effective at providing users with important information on menstrual cycles, analyzing the average period duration, body temperature, or length of menstrual cycles. Women can use the data they provide to track their cycles and identify their fertile periods with greater accuracy. These fertility-tracking apps have become extremely popular in the past couple of years, and although some people doubt their effectiveness, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to back them up.

A second male birth control pill just passed human safety tests

For decades, contraceptive pills have been women-only. Now, that is changing.

After the first male contraceptive pill just passed safety tests just a few months ago, another one is hot on its trails. The experimental male oral contraceptive called 11-beta-methyl-19-nortestosterone dodecylcarbonate —  or 11-beta-MNTDC for short — has proven effective as a contraceptive while not having any significant side effects.

“Our results suggest that this pill, which combines two hormonal activities in one, will decrease sperm production while preserving libido,” said lead author Christina Wang, from the Los Angeles Biomed Research Institute (LA BioMed), Torrance, California.

The study analyzed the pills’ effects on 40 healthy men. Out of them, 10 received a placebo, 14 received a dose of 200 milligrams (mg), and 16 got a double dose of 400 mg. The pill was taken daily, with food.

It essentially works by reducing circulating testosterone level as well as two other hormones required for sperm production. Both doses of the pill were successful in reducing these hormones compared to the placebo, and the effects were reversible — after the treatment was stopped, normal levels were observed once again.

The side effects were mild. Five men reported slightly decreased sex drive, and two men described mild erectile dysfunction. However, overall sexual activity was not decreased, researchers say. Other mild side effects included headaches and acne — all of which (and many more) are also present in existing contraceptive pills for women.

However, the effectiveness of the pill was not thoroughly assessed — this was only a safety test, to see if drug testing can proceed in larger samples. Longer tests of 60 to 90 days are required to see how sperm production is affected, 28 days of treatment is too short an interval to observe optimal sperm suppression.

“The goal is to find the compound that has the fewest side effects and is the most effective,” Page said. “We are developing two oral drugs in parallel in an attempt to move the [contraceptive medicine] field forward.”

At any rate, this will be a lengthy process. Even if things go according to plan, it will take several years before male contraceptives hit the shelves.

“Safe, reversible hormonal male contraception should be available in about 10 years,” Wang predicted.

Still, Wang is optimistic. She quotes a previous study which found that 55% of men in stable relationships would at least try this type of contraceptive.

A few months ago, a similar treatment has also passed safety tests. 11-Beta-MNTDC is a “sister compound” to dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU, the first potential male birth control pill to undergo testing by the same research team.

Results were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Sperm gene discovery might lead to male birth control

A male birth control might not be so far away as most people thought – especially as Scottish scientists have uncovered a key gene essential for sperm development.

The gene, which for some reason was named called Katnal1, is critical for sperm production, as it enables the little guys to mature; thus, if a pill could be created to regulate this gene, sperm production would be halted.

If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive,” study author Dr. Lee Smith, a reader in genetic endocrinology at the Medical Research Council Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said in a news release.

The other, hormonal, male birth control has numerous unwanted side effects due to the modification of testosterone production, including but not limited to mood swings, acne, irritability etc, so this new method, with no other visible side effects in sight could be perfect for many who want something else than condoms and vasectomies. But, of course, no visible side effects in sight so far. Also, this proposed method would carry another significant advantage.

“The important thing is that the effects of such a drug would be reversible because Katnal1 only affects sperm cells in the later stages of development, so it would not hinder the early stages of sperm production and the overall ability to produce sperm,” he said.

Aside for using this research as a contraceptive method, it could also shed some light in important matters.

“The gene described by the research group in Edinburgh sounds like an exciting new possible target for a new male contraceptive, but it may also shed light on why some men are sub-fertile and why their sperm does not work properly,” Pacey said.