You asked, we answered: why is the male contraceptive pill taking so long to develop?

  • Marie Claire is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
  • Scientists believe that the male pill could be here in just five years

    It’s no news that a male contraceptive pill is being developed – the concept for the male contraceptive pill was actually first proposed back in 1957, but there’s been little to no development until now. Question, then: why is the male contraceptive pill taking so long and what’s the delay?

    New data reviewed by LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, has revealed an increase in searches for ‘male contraceptive’ by 50% this last year. Naturally, we’re all starting to wonder what it is, how it works and when it will be available.

    We’ve spoken to Sameer Sanghvi, clinical technology lead at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, to get the inside scoop.

    Male contraceptive: what’s the latest? 

    What is the male contraceptive?

    In short, a form of birth control that men can take, rather than women. There isn’t one type of male pill at current – there are several different versions in development, shares Sanghvi.

    “An early version contained only synthetic progesterone and required the use of an implant that releases testosterone to counter any unwanted effects,” he shares. “More recently, a pill called 11-beta-MNDTC has been through early, successful trials in the US.”

    How does the male contraceptive work? 

    So how does it work? “This pill blocks sperm production,” he explains. “In a small trial it caused the hormones required for sperm production to drop, and some men experienced side-effects such as acne, fatigue and headaches. Some men also reported low sex drive and erection difficulties.”

    No different to the side effects women face on the pill, then…

    Why is it taking so long to develop?

    In short, because for the pill to work, it would have to achieve a number of things: slow or stop the creation of sperm, stop the sperm from leaving the body, and further, prevent the sperm from reaching the destination or prevent the sperm from fertilising the egg. “All of which are no easy feat,” shares Sanghvi.

    The pill has passed initial human safety tests, but plenty of people have argued that the present delay is down to researchers avoiding inconveniencing men with potential side effects, shares the doctor.

    “A lack of interest can lead to a lack of investment, which makes developing treatments like this even harder.”

    Why has it caused controversy?

    Good question. “The female pill in the UK was launched almost 60 years ago, but the male pill will likely still be under development for several more years,” shares Sanghvi.

    Not to mention the fact men have protested about the side effects seen during the trial of the pill. Sadly, they’re similar to the side effects most women have been dealing with for over 60 years already. It’s time the burden was shared, in our opinion…

    When will it be readily available?

    Sadly, as Sanghvi points out, it’s a slow process, not helped by the apparent lack of interest – and funding – in its development. “It’s taken many years to develop and there’s still work to do before the pill is readily available,” he shares. “There is research going into other forms of male contraception, but a contraceptive pill for men is still likely to be many years away from reaching the market.”

    Reading now