A Moment of Science

“The Pill”–No Longer For Women Only

Here’s a question for the males out there. If there existed a birth control pill for men, would you take it?

Until recently this question was strictly of the rhetorical variety, but soon, male birth control pills will hit the shelves.

Here’s how male birth control pills will work. Sperm production begins in the brain. The hypothalamus releases a hormone that instructs the pituitary gland to release hormones that in turn tells the testes to produce testosterone. Together, the pituitary hormones and testosterone command the testes to produce sperm. When enough sperm has been released, the testes release more testosterone and a hormone called inhibin that tells the brain to shut down the works.

A male birth control pill will consist of testosterone-like synthetic hormones that can trick the brain into shutting down sperm production. The idea is that adding extra amounts of synthetic testosterone and another sex hormone called progesterone to the bloodstream will mimic the natural mechanism that stops sperm production.

Researchers are also experimenting with various hormonal implants and non-hormonal pills that can stop sperm from doing their thing. For instance, one method involves using a special protein to block the ability of sperm to move their tails, and thus be unable to swim. This tail-inactivation method is attractive because it avoids the side effects of hormonal treatments, which can include mood swings, acne, and weight gain.

Whether men will go for male birth control in the form of a pill, implant, or injection, is impossible to really predict, of course. However, since millions of women have been taking The Pill since the 1960s, it seems only fair that men be open to a little chemical prevention when the time comes.

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