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Male Birth Control Pills May Give Women the Break They Deserve

Photograph by Twenty20

When it comes to the birth control pills, the responsibility has historically fallen on women. Now, that could be changing.

Women have been taking the pill (and one for the team) since the late 1950s, when Margaret Sanger advocated for widespread contraception. Enovid, the first oral contraceptive for women, was approved for birth control use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1960, and since then "the pill" (under different brand names) remains one of the most popular methods of birth control for women.

Now, scientists are switching their focus toward men.

According to Endocrine Society, researchers introduced a prototype male pill (think female prescription, but with testosterone instead of estrogen) this week at their annual abstract show, ENDO 2018, in Chicago.

The study, which analyzed the hormone and cholesterol levels of 83 men after ingesting various doses of the prototype pill—dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU)— or a placebo for a solid month, is a “major step forward” in male contraception, said Stephanie Page, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and senior investigator, in a statement.

Though some of the men complained of mild weight gain (welcome to our world) and experienced a decrease in "good" HDL cholesterol, only a few of them noticed a decline in libido. Still, researchers are giving DMAU two thumbs up for safety.

Page said that the once-daily male contraceptive pill will attract more men than the long-acting injections or topical gels currently on the market, adding that other forms of testosterone can exit the body too quickly for use in a once-daily pill, but the “undecanoate” in DMAU is a long-chain fatty acid that can slow the drug’s journey out of the body.

“Despite having low levels of circulating testosterone, very few subjects reported symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency or excess,” Page added. Even so, longer-term studies will be needed to show if it could decrease sperm production or prevent couples from conceiving.

All in all, an oral contraception for men sounds like a dream, but did we mention the pills must be taken with food or they won't work? Sounds like the male pill needs a few more adjustments before we get too excited—so to speak.

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