Men who want to take charge of their birth control don't have nearly as many options as women. Though some prescription birth control methods for men are being pursued by researchers and clinicians, there are still far more options for women.
Few Options Exist
Dr. Jakoda Snider, a family practice physician at Indiana University Health, explains that physicians don't have many birth control options to offer their male patients. "At this time, we don't have many options," he said. "Typically, we suggest family planning, condoms or a vasectomy." In the United States, there is currently no birth control available by prescription for men whatsoever. Condoms are only around 82% effective with typical use. "There are active studies being done to change this, but nothing has been approved in the U.S. yet."
Male vs. Female
Why do women have so many more birth control options than men? It's a simple case of biology, explains Dr. Snider. "Just from a biological standpoint, birth control for females has been easier. Males produce a large number of sperm in their lifetime, some 500 billion or so, and during a single ejaculation, they can release tens to hundreds of millions. It only takes one sperm to fertilize the female. Trying to find a form of contraception that can protect against all those sperm can be difficult. Women only release typically one to two eggs per month, a number much easier to control."
New Developments in Male Birth Control
"Male birth control has definitely taken a back seat for many years, but is becoming increasingly researched," says Dr. Snider. "Currently, studies looking at the RISUG, a progestin gel, injection, and even a daily male birth control pill are in clinical trials."
"RISUG, reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance, is under clinical trials, but only in India currently." Though this form of male birth control received attention in the media and was met with excitement by people looking for more birth control options, this is not a medication that is available as of yet. "There is some U.S. work being done on a form of RISUG, but this is in the preclinical stage. It works by injecting a polymer gel into each of the two vas deferens and blocking the sperm from being released into the ejaculate. It's similar to a vasectomy without cutting the vas deferens and is easily reversible."
The Future of Birth Control for Men
Dr. Snider predicts that any new forms of birth control for men are years from ever being made available to the public. "Things are in the pipeline but I think we are still a few years out from having anything become available," he says. "Besides vasectomy and RISUG, all the other forms of 'birth control' work by changing hormone levels. Anytime we change hormone levels, there are side effects. Dealing with these side effects while making effective birth control can be challenging."
Permanent Birth Control
Men who are finished having children can opt for a vasectomy for permanent birth control. "As of right now, in the U.S., a vasectomy is the only form of irreversible birth control. I use the word 'irreversible' loosely because reversing one is not a guarantee and is expensive," says Dr. Snider.
Taking Control of Birth Control
While there are not a lot of choices yet for men's birth control, some options do exist that allow men to enjoy sex with a reduced chance of a pregnancy. Condoms, family planning, abstinence, and vasectomy remain the options suggested by medical professionals for men.