Birth Control: No Longer Just a Woman’s Issue?

By Riley Forbes


Historically, the burden of contraception has been delegated to women, as men have a limited number of reliable options; however, at the Endocrinology Society conference last year, a research team presented their findings regarding the trial of a new male oral contraceptive. The main compound present in the contraception is Dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU), which is metabolized by the body and converted into an active compound known as dimethandrolone (DMA). The mechanism in which DMA acts is by binding to androgen and progesterone receptors to suppress gonadotropins - molecules that are secreted by the pituitary gland to stimulate gonadal activity - and in pre-clinical trials DMA has been successful at inhibiting sperm production (Page et al, 2018).


The research team behind this potentially revolutionary contraception is lead by Stephanie Page, a senior investigator from the University of Washington Medical Center. During an interview for the Guardian, Page said: ‘Dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU) is a major step forward in the development of a once-daily ‘male pill’’ (Boseley, 2018). Page also acknowledged that there are current long-term research trials under way to verify the ability of DMAU an an inhibitor in the production of sperm when taken daily.


While the male oral contraception is still in the early phases, results from initial trials have concluded that the pill is well-tolerated with no significant changes in mood or sexual functioning over the 28 days. These research results and public interest hold a promising future for Stephanie and her team while combating contraceptive inequality and raising awareness about the importance of birth control as no longer just a woman’s issue.


Research and development of an oral male contraceptive is a progressive step that is publicly supported with men and women believing they should “share equal responsibility in reproductive decisions and outcomes” (Grady, Tanfer, Billy, & Lincoln-Hanson, 1996). The implications of an oral male contraception are broad and extend to gender roles, education, and financial burden. Currently, reproduction is often thought of as a “woman’s issue,” as the majority of research has been focused on improving and decreasing symptoms associated with female contraception. However with the advent of a new male contraceptive, men and women have the opportunity to share the burden of contraception and reproduction.


However, even if science is successfully at creating an oral or other male contraception, a financial barrier could present a challenge, especially for minority or low-income men who are less likely to have healthcare coverage compared to their female counterparts (Plana, 2017). This could potentially disproportionately impact and limit access for men of color in the United States. Additionally, there is a deficit in contraception and reproductive health education and resources access among men due to race and ethnicity, which could further exacerbate contraception and reproductive equality. As Page and her team continue to progress on their research and trials, the government should work with scientists, health care facilities, and public policy to improve funding for reproductive health and expand policy to include coverage for male contraception.


References:


Boseley, S. (2018, March 18). Male pill could be on horizon as trials yield positive results.


Grady W. R., Tanfer K., Billy J. O. G., Lincoln-Hanson J. (1996). Men’s perceptions of their roles and responsibilities regarding sex, contraception and childrearing. Family Planning Perspectives, 28, 221-226. doi:10.2307/2135841


Page, S. T., & Thirumalai, A. (2018). Pharmacokinetic And Pharmacodynamic Effects of 28 Days of Oral Dimethandrolone Undecanoate in Healthy Men: A Prototype Male Pill. Endocrine Society 2018 Conference.


Plana O. (2015). Male Contraception: Research, New Methods, and Implications for Marginalized Populations. American journal of men's health, 11(4), 1182-1189.

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