Male Birth Control Is Coming. What Does That Mean For Already Decreasing Male Fertility?

By Gwen Farrell··  6 min read
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Fertility, or our biological capability of producing children, is an integral element of our human existence that’s often removed from conversations on topics like sex and birth control, especially because long-term (hormonal) contraception use is seen as basically harmless.

Similarly, men are often removed from the equation even though they play just as crucial a role in the process of conception as women.

Now we’re seeing an increased effort to make birth control options available for men. Several products are already in the testing phase and may soon be gearing up for widespread consumption, or what many see as a long overdue victory. But what kind of effect will this supposed triumph have on already decreasing male fertility?

How Close Are We to a Birth Control Pill for Men?

Because the majority of contraceptive options are for women and marketed towards them, it seems to follow that male birth control just isn’t on our radar. It should also be noted that while the contraceptive methods mainly geared towards men – i.e., condoms, the withdrawal method, and the like – are non-invasive or non-hormonal, the same can’t be said for women’s contraception. Cervical dilation for IUD implantation is anecdotally worse pain than childbirth, and years spent on hormonal birth control can have lasting, unpredictable effects on mental and physical health.

All of that could change very soon. While condoms can be prone to failure and vasectomies aren’t an option for every male, a research team at the University of Minnesota has successfully created a pill that prevents proteins from attaching to vitamin A, effectively decreasing sperm count and fertility. The pill successfully decreased the sperm count of the mice it was tested on in lab trials during a four-month period. The next step for the product will be trials with human test subjects.

The pill prevents proteins from attaching to vitamin A, decreasing sperm count and fertility.

The pill in question had a 99% efficiency rate at preventing pregnancy in mice. The pill is non-hormonal, and researchers are optimistic that the pill could hit the market in five years. 

A separate team from the Lundquist Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is working towards a topical contraceptive gel for men. The research for the gel (which specifically targets male hormones to decrease their production) is sponsored by the National Institutes for Health and the Population Council, and was already in the human-trial phase in 2018.

Male Fertility Is Already on a Downward Spiral

All of the concerted efforts to get a viable male contraceptive on the market demonstrate that there’s genuine interest in the role men play in conception, even in our no-strings-attached sex culture. But with all of the effort focused on male contraception, there’s (unsurprisingly) little to no discussion on the potential impact it could have on the already declining male fertility.

Men have a biological advantage when it comes to fertility that women don’t. While our fertility decreases with age and the maturation of our eggs, men are able to consistently produce sperm, provided that their environmental, health, and lifestyle factors are all contributing to healthy motility and overall sperm viability. 

But there is, in fact, a worldwide decline in male fertility. Male testosterone levels have declined sharply since the 1980s at a consistent annual rate that can’t be attributed to age alone. Scientists cite environmental toxins, obesity, and diet as the main factors contributing to this decline. All of this to say, while male contraception seems to be the destination we’re charging towards, full-speed ahead, we’re doing so with what seems very little consideration to an epidemic of rapidly decreasing male fertility. 

Male testosterone levels have declined sharply since the 1980s at a consistent annual rate.

There also seems to be little mention of how both hormonal and non-hormonal methods of male contraception will affect mood, personality, and intimate relationships. A hormonal method of male birth control could be 100% effective at preventing pregnancy, but does that statistic speak to the influence it may have on future sperm production and motility, and future male fertility overall? Have we measured the effect that further lowered testosterone will have on weight, diet, and day-to-day quality of life? What about the effects that male contraception might have on the enjoyment of sex, the strength of the couple, and their future plans together? What about considerations like religion, or cultural standards and norms? Because every couple is different just as every individual is different, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to preventing pregnancy, except in learning that because our bodies are different, they deserve an individualistic approach

Shared Responsibility Is Important

Two things can be true at once: men should bear some of the responsibility when it comes to pregnancy prevention, but male contraception which targets delicate mechanisms like human fertility, hormones, and testosterone isn’t necessarily the solution.

The truth is, men have been bearing the same amount of responsibility when it comes to sex from the very beginning, which is why sex was once only reserved for marriage. Though progressive feminists act as though it’s a radical concept to hold men accountable for unplanned pregnancy and the consequences of unprotected sex, if you look back at centuries of civilization, it really isn’t. Once upon a time, men stepped up to face those outcomes, and they did so without blaming the result of their actions on things like a lack of available male contraception.

Men should play a part in pregnancy prevention if they’re partaking in consensual sex.

If we’re really getting into the nitty-gritty, there are ways (namely, the fertility awareness method) that hold both men and women to a higher standard of responsibility while preventing conception. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to avoid pregnancy (safely) if it’s not the right time for you to have a family, but we shouldn’t expect that to be something that comes easily to us simply because we wish it were so. Unprotected sex has ramifications, but when we’re in tune with our bodies, paying attention to cues like cervical mucus, basal body temperature, and potential ovulation, we’re literate enough both in our fertility and our relationship to know when it’s prudent to have sex and when it’s not. This realization isn’t an overly complex concept, but it is an exercise in maturity. Sex has consequences whether we ignore them or not.

Closing Thoughts

Men should play a part in pregnancy prevention if they’re partaking in consensual sex, just as it’s natural for them to have a voice and even an opinion on birth control whether they’re the one taking it or their partner is. We’ve since eschewed the customary method of saving sex for marriage or holding men responsible for their part in unplanned pregnancy, but we shouldn’t have been so quick to, now that we’re looking at how fatherless homes and meaningless sexual encounters have negatively impacted us.

Since its invention, contraception has always spelled “freedom” and liberation to us. While progress in making male contraception widely available is seen by many as the sign of a forward-thinking, advanced society, it could have regressive and unintended byproducts that further deteriorate male fertility, instead of preserving it.

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  Fertility  Birth Control
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