Where Is the Male Birth Control Pill?
Bet you didn't have this marked on your calendar: today is
World Vasectomy Day
, a holiday celebrated not with parades or fireworks, but with the delicate snip of two tiny tubes. But is such a
step really our only male
Surprisingly enough, research on oral contraceptives for both men and
Failure to Launch
The Pill For Guys isn't here yet, but it's close. And it has been for fifty years, explains Elaine Tyler May, Ph.D., Regents Professor of American Studies and History at the
"The push for male hormonal contraceptive goes way back, more than a half-century, when the search was going on for female contraceptives. Starting in the 1950's, researchers were saying it was just around the corner, within the next 5 years. That was repeated over the next half-century, up to and including today."
But while the mechanism behind the female pill has been tweaked to near-perfection, a hormone-based solution for males is still elusive "There have been a lot of almost insurmountable side effects for every compound tested," Dr. May told us. "The most significant is impotence-nobody wants to take a birth control pill that makes them impotent."
John Amory M.D., Ph.D., Professor of
So the birth control pill for men exists. It's just potentially a nuclear option.
Hormones aside, the physiological challenges are daunting. As Dr. Amory points out, women make one egg a month, whereas men make 1,000 sperm
. And while women's birth control tricks the body into a natural state of
The Next-Best Thing
So a male version of the pill isn't hitting pharmacies any time soon. What else is out there? Well, there's the option of injecting gold nanoparticles into the testes, then zapping them with infrared laser until they get warm enough to kill sperm without damaging the surrounding tissue. Hypothetically promising, but so far only tested in mice.
Then there are ways to block the biological processes that make sperm, like Dr. Amory's retinoic acid inhibitor or similar methods that target proteins . Unlike hormone modulators, which can dial down libido and erections as they shut off sperm production, targeting specific mechanisms in the testis means no side effects elsewhere. But again, that vague five-year timeframe hangs in the air.
More recently, there's the very promising "reversible vasectomy," (BE WARNED, that link has one leg-crossingly graphic image) filling the vas deferens with a polymer mesh that breaks up sperm without blocking the flow of ejaculate. It's quick, cheap, fully reversible, and it's proven 100% effective in India. But it's been on a slow road to stateside approval. Human trials are slated to begin in 2014 .
Our Best, Most Permanent Solution
This leaves us with the old-fashioned vasectomy, where the tubes are cut and
rarely put back together
. Akhil Das, M.D., assistant professor of urology at
But Dr. Das says his patients are usually 100 percent set on a vasectomy when they reach his office. No turning back. And if they do have doubts, they might as well hold tight; I hear there's a great alternative that's just five years away.
Image: Shutterstock/ Tomas Daliman