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What the Health!?

Since its invention in the ’60s, the birth control pill has been used by many to prevent pregnancy. A plethora of methods have been put on the market, even including methods for after unprotected sex. The success of these methods has to do with the effect of estrogen in the body. Some contraceptives use a combination of progesterone and estrogen, and others use only the latter, to prevent pregnancy by doing three things. The release of these hormones into the body thins the uterine lining, thickens cervical mucus, and stops the egg from being released, which greatly lessens the chance of impregnation.

The variety of Birth Control Methods (BCM) all have one thing in common: they are used in female bodies. Not a single hormonal method is made for male-bodied people. This criticism is nothing new. For years, men and women alike have wanted to share the responsibility of safe sex practices. Although barrier methods can be used by all genders, men lack access to a hormonal BCM.

However, in recent months there have been advancements towards making this a possibility. On March 25, a team of scientists announced that their male birth control pill had passed a 28 day trial of safety tests without any patient opt-out, in contrast to many other attempts.

This is a huge step towards equal opportunity for sexual health. Scientific journalist Leslie Nemo shares the difference of this pill saying, “The researchers attribute their successful trial to the active agent in the pill, which is two hormones in one. Part progestin and part modified testosterone, the hybrid molecule means that the consumer always has matching levels of the hormones in the body.”

Low testosterone levels are known to cause a slew of problems, including decreased sex drive, fatigue, acne, and even erectile dysfunction, symptoms that may turn many off to the idea of this new pill. Nemo shares the view of Christina Wang, the associate director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Los Angeles BioMed Research Institute, who claims that this blend of hormones prevents any and all of the previously mentioned side effects.

Although this is all good news, there has been no testing for the long term health effects of the pill. These studies are vital in determining whether or not the reproductive system would be permanently infertile or, like current birth control methods, not jeopardized in future pregnancy. The end goal is to create an injection, similar to the Depo-Provera shot to administer opposed to a pill, in an attempt to widen the pool of possible users.

Other possibilities have been introduced, such as Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance (RISUG), a procedure in which a sperm inactivating agent would be inserted into the vas deferens, the tube through which sperm travels during ejaculation. RISUG is still in the early stages of development and there is still no guarantee of any future ability. Wang states that the earliest any of these methods would be on the market is a decade. However, for some there’s a silver lining in the existence of these conversations and the possibility of a male hormonal birth control at all, even if it is a decade away.