In 2016, men participating in what sounded like a promising trial (a sperm destroying two-hormone injection), dropped out complaining of ‘too many side effects’.
Initial results showed that the contraceptive would be 96 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy. But the Stage II trial was stopped after the side effects complaints.
According to results published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the most common side effect men complained about was acne. But then there were others like: mood swings, weight gain, low libido.
This caused moments of exasperation on the Internet, because these don’t fall outside of the range of side effects considered in the female contraception world as incidental ordinary risks.
The men in the trial were accused of being too wimpy to handle the discomfort women on the pill face every day.
Despite these side effects, which stopped after the men went off the pill and their hormone levels returned to normal, many study participants said they’d take the pill in real life if it were available.
One of the researchers behind the trial, Arthi Thirumalai from the University of Washington, expressed frustration because the male pill was found to be more convenient than some current birth control options for women.
“We did see mild weight gain and slight changes in the good cholesterol which requires us to fine tune the dosing and maybe look a little more closely at the formulation, but overall we’re very encouraged about the safety profile of the dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU),” said Dr Stephanie Page, one of the co-authors of the research in a press release by the endocrine society website.
Another fear amongst most men has been that the compounds might cause permanent alterations to sperm production.
There have also been concerns over the effects of hormonal birth control on the liver. The same ones that women on the same compounds would be exposed to.
For instance, the pill which has been the longest form of male contraception on trial, has proven so difficult because the hormones are quickly metabolised by the liver.
But according to Thirumalai, “It is quite old-fashioned to think that men would forget to take the pill … survey data shows that men want to take responsibility for contraception too.
Dr Page, notes that globally, 60 to 80 per cent of men surveyed suggest they would be interested in a reversible male contraceptive if it were available.
More than 30 per cent of those responding to a multinational survey said they prefer to use a daily oral pill as opposed to an injection or an implant.
About the long-standing question of men’s willingness to use a contraception, and women’s readiness to trust them to use it, Dr John Kinuthia, an obstetrician/gynaecologist at the Kenyatta National Hospital who is leading the male gel contraceptive trial in Kenya, says, “attitudes have changed.”
“We are often asked whether men will be compliant/ can be relied upon and whether women will trust their partners to use something since they bear the burden of pregnancy.
“International surveys that reveal men are very interested and wiling but they simply don’t have great contraceptive options.
“More than 80 per cent of women in committed relationships in global surveys say they would trust their partners to use a male contraceptive,” said Dr Kinuthia.