Behind the headlines: Could male contraceptive be as effective as the Pill?

A male contraceptive jab could be as effective at preventing pregnancies as the Pill or condoms, media reports have claimed.

The concept of a male contraceptive has been investigated for almost 20 years, but previous studies have been small-scale and inconclusive.

Sperm production was reliably reduced by the contraceptive jab

This latest study is the first to achieve a 99 per cent success rate by injecting men with a testosterone-based jab.

However, the jab would need to be administered every month and would not offer any protection against STIs.

What is the research?
The findings are based on a study of 1,045 healthy, fertile Chinese men aged 20 to 45.

Only men who had fathered at least one child in the previous two years and had normal results in sperm tests were eligible for the study.

The female partners were aged 18-38 and also had normal reproductive function.

The men received monthly injections of a formulation of testosterone undecanoate (500mg) in tea seed oil for 30 months.

During this time, the men were not allowed to use any other form of contraception and were required to give semen samples every three months.

Overall, there were nine pregnancies during the study and there was a contraceptive failure rate of 1.1 per 100 men.

The injections functioned by lowering levels of follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone which in turn resulted in reduced sperm production.

Following the injections, it took an average of 182 days for the men's sperm counts to return to their pre-study level.

No adverse events were reported during the study, although 18 participants were forced to pull out after experiencing discomfort with the injections.

What do the researchers say?
Lead researcher Dr Yi-Qun Gu, from the National Research Institute for Family Planning in Beijing, said: 'For couples who cannot, or prefer not to use only female-oriented contraception, options have been limited to vasectomy, condom and withdrawal.

'Our study shows a male hormonal contraceptive regimen may be a potential, novel and workable alternative.'

However, Dr Gu warned that the long-term safety of this hormonal male contraceptive regimen required more extensive testing with a focus on cardiovascular, prostate and behavioural safety.

What do other researchers say?
Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at Sheffield University and secretary of the British Fertility Society, said: 'This is one of a number of studies testing the efficacy of a hormonal form of contraception for men. The data suggests it may be highly effective.

'Options for men are limited to condom use or vasectomy, and the latter is not really reversible, so it would help to have other options available for men.'

Dr Ian Banks, chairman of the Men's Health Forum, added that the development of a contraceptive for men would help to prevent them from relying on women to take the Pill.

'This research is a great step forward, but there is a big danger that men will have the injection and think that it will also offer them protection against STIs,' he warned.

'Men would need to be educated to use the contraception appropriately.'

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

Informing patients

  • Monthly testosterone injections could act as a contraceptive for men.
  • The technique reduced sperm production and had a 99 per cent success rate.
  • The injection would not protect men against STIs.

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