For the longest time, the responsibility of using birth control has fallen on the person with the uterus in an intimate relationship. Now there is a study that’s looking to expand birth control options for romantic partners. In the coming years, if the treatment is proven effective and safe in its research participants, we could begin to see an over-the-counter male birth control option on our pharmacy shelves.
It worked in mice, can it work in men? A recent study published by Nature Communications reported that when male mice were given adenylyl cyclase (sAC); an enzyme that temporarily inhibits sperm activity for roughly three hours, no female mice got pregnant. If you’re wondering what this means for you or your partner, the news is pretty exciting — this is our first glimpse into a form of male birth control that isn’t a contraceptive or a vasectomy.
Wait, Does male birth control even exist?
While we may only be hearing about this now, the research actually originally took off in 2018 by Dr. Melanie Balbach, who was a post-doc student at the time. She had volunteered to help with graduate research on preventing eye disorders in humans and was tasked with testing a possible treatment on mice. In exchange for her services, Balbach asked if she could also monitor the mice’s sperm responses since biological responses were her field of interest.
After her tests, she found that the sperm in the mice tested didn’t move. And when she took her results to the lab’s co-directors, Dr. Jochen Beck and Dr. Johnny Levin, they were able to synthesize the findings. Together, Balbach, Beck and Levin co-authored a research study showing a connection between the sAC protein and its sperm-blocking potential. Specifically, they tested their research process in lab male lab mice in a controlled environment.
The next step would be trying to implement an sAC-based drug in human male research participants, but there’s still work to be done before those in-person trials are performed. As of now, however, it is notable to highlight that the sAC variation that the research team is using is known to have minimal side effects on male mice. In addition, it also has been found that it effectively functions to prevent pregnancies in female mice after they have intercourse with the sAC-treated male mice.
How would it work?
According to Buck, the team pinpointed the on-button for sperm movement and was able to use the sAC enzyme as the off button. With that in mind, essentially, researchers would make an sAC-based substance that men could take regularly in anticipation of sexual activity to “turn off” sperm activity for a given time. Pointedly, it would be a bite-sized tablet that would be like the birth control pill, but for those with male sex organs.
As a best practice, men would have to consume the pill at the same time every day for it to be the most useful. But there’s a long way to go before that pill-taking regimen should be on your partner’s radar. Currently, the team is testing out the sAC solution on male rabbits and has to finish their research before it is replicated in human participants.
When will male birth control become available?
Male birth control won’t hit the market until the research is performed, analyzed, discussed, completed, published, peer-reviewed, and reproduced. However, big pharma is looking into the marketability of male contraceptives, so when the studies are completed, they may have support from the industry. In correlation, this may mean faster production times and shorter wait periods for the sAC pills over the counter when — and if — they reach the market.
Until then, practice safe sex and be smart about your modes of contraception — you’ll be glad you were. Here’s to hoping!