Lifestyle

Finally, Male Birth Control Pills

by Caroline Pham

December 4, 2014

“Did you take your birth control pill?”

It’s a question that causes many women to bristle, a recurring reminder that the brunt of the responsibility falls on them to prevent pregnancy. It’s a lopsided arrangement, to be sure, but researchers in Indonesia are on a mission to level the field with birth control pills for men.

After word had spread about men from the island of Papua using a common Indonesian plant, Justica gendarussa, to prevent pregnancy—by boiling its leaves in a tea or regularly chewing them—scientists decided to tap into the useful foliage themselves. By synthesizing a chemical from the gendarussa leaf into pills, Indonesian researchers have seen success in several clinical trials with the plant’s effectiveness as a male contraceptive.

Bambang Prajogo, the lead scientist on the study, told the Global Post that the method was extremely effective in a small clinical study, reporting that “the pill weakens enzymes in sperm that allow them to squirm into a woman’s ovum.” He and his team said that men would need to take the pill once daily, much like the female version, but that “unlike female birth control pills, it doesn’t tinker with hormones, which causes so many unpleasant side effects.” That’s not to say the male version hasn’t produced any unwanted results in subjects (weight gain and increased libido have been recorded as potential side effects), but “overall, researchers haven’t seen anything that remotely rivals the zits, nausea, sporadic bleeding and other effects many women endure on hormone-based birth control pills.”

Count yourself lucky, boys.

As respected as Prajogo and his research team may be, a larger clinical study will be needed to lend more legitimacy to their male contraceptive pill. An independent expert, David Sokal, MD, of the Male Contraceptive Initiative, said, “In the best case scenario, gendarussa might be as effective as oral contraceptives, but a lot more research is needed to confirm the early findings. While early reports had pegged the pill to land on the Indonesian market by 2016, Sokal also indicates that is too hasty a timeframe for the necessary studies and funding that getting this drug to the masses would require. And while gendarussa has generated interest from researchers in the States, Prajogo is still focused on securing the funding for research needed for approval by the Indonesian FDA. While it still may be even longer for the pills to hit the U.S. market (as the American FDA may still require repeats of the clinical trials), the progress Prajogo has seen is extremely promising.

Perhaps this will be the monumental step that helps men and women take equal responsibility for contraception. Perhaps this will be a gigantic leap in helping the growing issue of overpopulation. Perhaps I simply can’t wait for the day when I turn to ask my boyfriend, “Did you take your birth control pill?”

Correction: This article has been edited to include factual updates regarding gendarussa’s effectiveness, proposed date to market, and overseas interest in its patent. 

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

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Finally, Male Birth Control Pills