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You Are the Father? Words You'll Never Hear If the Male Birth Control Pill Becomes Reality

For years, there’s been talk of a birth control pill for men. Could we be close? Here’s what you need to know about male contraceptives.

On the birth control front, women have the lion’s share of options—from IUDs to douching to diaphragms. Men, on the other hand, have a measly three choices: wear a condom, get a vasectomy, or abstain from sex altogether. And for the vast majority of adult men—except perhaps those thinking of entering the priesthood—abstaining from sex isn’t really a long-term option.

It’s no wonder the idea of a male birth control pill keeps making waves—though researchers have been hinting at it being "just around the corner" for a decade or two now. So what’s the hold up?

The challenges have to do with some key differences between female and male reproductive systems. Unlike women, who release a single egg per month, men are constantly producing spunk. Fifteen hundred sperm per second, to be exact. Suppressing even 99.9% of that genetic material could still leave thousands of sperm at large—a sizable margin for error.

Another hurdle? Men are fertile all the time. Oral contraceptives for women actually prevent pregnancy by mimicking pregnancy—a stage when women can’t conceive.

Of course, tinkering with the body’s chemical messengers is always risky. Hormones have complex and widespread effects in the body—on digestion, development, mood, and behavior, to name a few.

Still, these challenges have done little to put a damper on interest in a male version of birth control. Male contraceptive options on the horizon include Gendarussa and the Clean Sheets Pill, but the current frontrunner in the race is Vasagel™. It’s actually an injection—not a pill—that works in much the same way as a vasectomy, minus the going-under-the-knife part.

With this method, a polymer gel is injected into vas deferens, a tube which transports sperm from the testes before ejaculation. Once inside, the polymer creates a “semi-permeable gel barrier,” effectively blocking sperm from getting through. This blockage lasts until it’s reversed with an injection that dissolves the polymer.

Though some sources report that one or more of these methods could be available on the market as early as 2018, others remain skeptical. For drug makers, the issue is liability. For women, the risks associated with taking birth control are justified by the fact that they prevent pregnancy, which happens to be inherently riskier than taking contraceptives.

It’s more difficult for pharmaceutical companies to justify the potential side effects of male birth contraceptives when pregnancy doesn’t pose a physical risk to men—even if a vast majority of men are willing to take birth control. One thing is, however, certain: without the financial backing of a pharmaceutical company, male contraceptives won’t get FDA approval anytime soon.

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