Category: reproduction

When Will the First Male Contraceptive Pill Be Publicly Available?

Competition for Condoms

Setting aside the issue of cost and insurance coverage, these days there are many options for birth control — for women, that is. Since the first birth control for women went on the market in 1960, scientists have come up with a variety of pills, inserts, and implants women can choose from for contraceptive purposes. Men, on the other hand, are much more restricted in their options.

When Will the First Male Contraceptive Pill Be Publicly Available?
Image Credit: bark / Flickr

Many are calling for more options for male birth control, both as a way to both give men more control over their fertility and to lessen the burden on women to deal with the responsibility and side effects of contraceptives by themselves. However, innovation in this area has been slow, and a recent attempt was not very promising. We asked Futurism readers when we can expect a version of “the pill” for men.

Apparently, very soon. Almost 80 percent of respondents believe a birth control pill will be available for men sometime during the 2020s. Reader Alejandro Baquero-Lima wrote he thinks the 2030s might be a little more feasible to ensure any kinks in the pharmacology will be worked out. “The male body is very different to that of the female body,” Baquero-Lima wrote. “Therefore, the contraceptive will have to make sure to react accordingly. But it will be coming.”

What The Experts Have to Say

Baquero-Lima is right in that scientists have found designing contraception for men a challenge. “Men make 1,000 sperm every second,” said John Amory, a male reproductive specialist at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, in an interview with Seeker. “It’s proven to be a lot more difficult to turn that degree of production off compared to one egg a month.”

But that hurdle hasn’t stopped researchers from pursuing potential contraceptives for men. One promising form of birth control in development, put in place by an injection, is 99 percent effective for more than 10 years after a single shot. Researchers have also recently discovered that two known compounds might act as “molecular condoms.” These projects and others in the drug-development pipeline have made Stephanie Page, professor of metabolism and endocrinology at UW, optimistic that we may see a birth control pill for men in about a decade.

“There are a number of targets that are being actively pursued: sperm motility, sperm-egg fusion, and various aspects of sperm development,” Page said in an interview with Endocrine News. “Thus, the 10-year benchmark that we have talked about for a few years now looks more promising than in the past.”

See all of the Futurism predictions and make your own predictions here.

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More Study Is Needed on Reproduction in Space If We Want to Colonize Mars

Human Martians

Humans are gearing up to make the next journey into the relative unknown with the first manned missions to Mars, which could come as early as 2022. The long-term goal of these missions will be to colonize the Red Planet. Experts believe that space colonization and becoming a multi-planetary species is the only way to ensure humanity’s survival.

There are plenty of obstacles beyond traveling to Mars that we will need to overcome before long-term colonization becomes a possibility, such as terraforming the planet to make it more livable for us Earthlings. Further, once a colony is established, the goal would then be to flourish, ensuring the colony’s survival in perpetuity. At this point, we are stepping into an interesting new branch of human biology, reproduction, and human development outside of Earth.

According to Kris Lehnhardt, an assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, “This is something that we, frankly, have never studied dramatically, because it’s not been relevant to date. But if we want to become a spacefaring species and we want to live in space permanently, this is a crucial issue that we have to address that just has not been fully studied yet.” Lehnhardt’s full remarks can be viewed in the video above.

Growing in Space

One study brought freeze-dried mouse sperm into space for nine months to see if space travel would affect the health of any offspring created by it. The mouse pups were born healthy, but they were born on Earth. This experiment showed that the radiation and other physical differences of space did not hinder normal reproduction. Even so, this does not mean that these findings would translate to embryos developing in space or on another planet, nor does it mean that the results would have been the same with human sperm.

Living Off The Land: A Guide To Settling Mars [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

The effects of lower gravity on fetal development have yet to be studied. A lack of Earth strength gravity could hamper normal human development. And even if the child was healthy for the environment in which it developed, the question then becomes: would that child ever be able to come to Earth?

The future of space colonization is unclear. Even if all of the technology comes together to allow for colonies to be established, biological factors may play a part in hindering the full potential of sustained colonies. At the very least, this would usher in a new era of human evolution.

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A New Method of Reversible Male Birth Control Passed a Major Test

Male Contraception

Right now, birth control options for men are limited to physical prophylactics (condoms) or surgery (a vasectomy), and there hasn’t been a major update in male contraception in more than 100 years. Last year, trials for a hormonal option began, but they had to be stopped early due to some unforeseen adverse side effects. Now, a new option is making its way through the required steps toward approval for widespread use, and it is reported to be completely reversible and much less invasive than a vasectomy.

Vasalgel is a one-time injection that has been shown to control sperm counts in monkeys. In fact, several of the treated monkeys were unable to get female monkeys pregnant for up to two years after the injection. The injection places a polymer gel in the tube through which sperm travels, the vas deferens, blocking sperm from joining the other bodily fluids that make up a man’s ejaculate. No adverse reactions were reported in either the testing done on rabbits or the monkeys.

jinterwas/Flickr
Credit: jinterwas/Flickr

The Democratization of Choice

The cost and potential complications of male or female surgical methods of birth control limit their availability worldwide. Condoms can be expensive given that they are only designed for a single use. That’s not even considering their relatively high rate of failure, from 15 to 20 percent. The not-for-profit company behind Vasalgel plans on marketing the product with an international pricing structure to maximize the potential of universal affordability for all men. This means it could play a huge part in the lives of people all around the globe.

Giving people more choices when it comes to birth control actually benefits us all. According to an article in The Atlantic, “…couples who experience unintended pregnancy and unplanned childbirth are more likely to have depression and anxiety — while adults who plan their children tend to be happier.” These findings come from a group of studies compiled by the Guttmacher Institute. And the benefits don’t stop at better mental health.

There are also clear economic benefits to greater control over reproduction. According to Martha Bailey, a University of Michigan professor of economics, “Cheaper and more reliable contraception allows parents to delay childbearing, to invest in their own human capital, and have children when their incomes are higher.” This kind of choice also allows for healthier individuals and families as poverty can be tied to higher rates of illness.

The product still has a few more regulatory hoops to jump through even before it can be submitted for approval to bodies such as the FDA. Still, any news regarding male-centered methods of birth control are worth noting, especially when they seem as promising as this one. The Parsemus Foundation’s original estimates of availability by 2018 may have been a lofty goal, but Vasagel is well on its way.

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