New research suggests the male pill could soon become a reality

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Emily Reynolds
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The ‘male pill’ may be one step closer to reality, with researchers appearing to find a safe, effective version of the contraception

Researchers may be one step closer to making the ‘male pill’ a reality, with a new pilot study finding that the contraception was safe – and that it appeared to work.

Presenting their research at the Endocrine Society’s annual conference, a team from the University of Washington said that the pill, currently known as dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU, contained a combination of hormones, including testosterone and a progestin. 

In a study involving 83 men, researchers say they saw a “marked suppression of hormones required for sperm production”. 

Other versions of the male pill had faced problems – one potentially causing liver inflammation, another requiring men to take the pill twice rather than once a day – but the researchers believe their version avoids these. 

“DMAU is a major step forward in the development of a once-daily ‘male pill’,” lead author Stephanie Page said. “These promising results are unprecedented in the development of a prototype male pill.

“Longer-term studies are currently under way to confirm that DMAU taken every day blocks sperm production.”

Millions of women use the pill – and many feel the emotional burden of dealing with contraception

The pill did, however, cause mild side effects, including weight gain and a drop in good cholesterol levels. Loss of sex drive and fatigue were not reported, despite low levels of testosterone. 

Trials of a different male contraception were halted last year when subjects began complaining of “intolerable side effects” including depression, acne and inflated libido.  

Some 20% of men dropped out of the trial despite the fact it was found to be 96% effective – 14% more effective than condoms, which are only effective 82% of the time. 

News that the trial had been halted due to side effects caused some social media users to point out the double standards – as many of the reported symptoms were the same as the side effects that millions of women on the contraceptive pill face every day. 

The news may also be good news for women: in 2017, a study found that women bear the “emotional and physical burden” of contraception. 

The study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, found that not getting pregnant was widely considered to be “the woman’s job”, stating that it was an another example of “how gender inequality is reproduced”. 

“Fertility work encompasses not only the physical burdens of contraception, including side effects, but also the associated time, attention, and stress,” said lead author Dr Katrina Kimport. 

She suggested a “more welcoming” structure for contraception – “a systematic way of encouraging a shared burden for fertility work”. This could include a male pill, an over-the-counter pill available for men to collect for their partners, or doctors spending more time talking to men about contraception options.

Studies also suggested that women would not trust their male partners to remember to take the pill – so a future where men and women share equal responsibility for contraception may still be a while away. 

Images: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash / Getty