On October 27th, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism published its findings based on the Male Birth Control Study. Because this form of male birth control is 96 percent effective according to the study, women were excited to begin sharing the burden of birth control with their partners. It is important to note that there are far fewer options for men to take birth control than for women. With roughly 40 percent of pregnancies globally classified as unwanted according to the Guttmacher Institute, birth control must continuously be improved and made easier to take.
In the study, each male participant received injections of 200 mg of norethisterone enanthate, a long-acting progestogen, and 1000 mg of testosterone undecanoate, a long-acting androgen, for up to 56 weeks to suppress their sperm counts. Men received injections every eight weeks. Within the first 24 weeks, 86 percent of male participants had sperm counts below one million. This shows that the treatment was effective in discouraging the body from producing testosterone and, consquently, sperm. The recovery was measured once the men were taken off of the contraceptive, revealing that the effects of injections were not permanent.
The scandal within the study was not that is was extremely effective in preventing pregnancies, but instead that twenty men dropped out of the study before its end. The men reported many adverse events or effects of this drug. Adverse effects included acne, increased labido, pain at injection site, muscle pain, and depression according to USA Today. These symptoms are very similar to those experienced by women taking birth control in any of its available forms.
One of the researchers, Mario Philip R. Festin of the World Health Organization in Geneva, believes that more research needs to be done in order to confirm the conclusions of this study, since there were no significant studies of its magnitude to date. This study was revolutionary, though, in the discovery that men can also use birth control to limit unwanted pregnancies successfully.
The reason that this issue hit front page news, however, was not the success of the study, but was instead the twenty men who chose to leave the study mid-way through because of the adverse effects. This only furthers the perspective that the responsibility of preventing pregnancy falls on women alone. With similar side effects to birth control for both sides, why does the responsibility to be on birth control falls on women? Needless to say the outcome of the “unfinished” study outraged women across the country who believe the responsibility should be shared.
Dr. Seth Cohen, a urologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, told a CNN reporter that “If anything, this may wake us up to finding out better hormonal contraceptives for women, right? Because certainly, I know that a lot of young women don’t get the type of counseling that maybe they deserve when it comes to contraception. Just a (prescription) and a visit to Duane Reade is all they get, and that may not be enough.”
The research done on male birth control may have implications beyond just the discoveries made. It gives a baseline for the expectations of minimal side effects in birth control methods. Young women who take the drug experience similar side effects to those experienced by the men in the study. Hopefully, this will lead to more studies on the side effects of women’s birth control in order to better understand how to limit these effects. The time spent in the metaphorical shoes of the women who take birth control may lead to an improvement of female birth control in addition to changes to male birth control.