3 men who joined clinical trials to try male birth control pills describe what it felt like, from weight gain to 'mild euphoria'
- A new
studyfound male birth controlpills worked to suppress sperm production and were liked by men.
- Researchers have been looking at alternative contraceptive options for men for decades.
Two experimental male birth control pills are one step closer to hitting the market after a trial showed they worked to suppress sperm production — and received high marks from the men who tried them.
Researchers say the drugs could be a promising alternative to the only male contraceptive options out there: condoms, which have a relatively high fail rate, and vasectomies, which are more or less permanent.
"Development of an effective, reversible male contraceptive method will improve reproductive options for men and women, have a major impact on public
While researchers have been studying male contraceptive options for decades, the current trial was the first to look at these particular compounds in humans. They work by providing the body with synthetic hormones that suppress natural testosterone — and therefore sperm — production without leading to the side effects of low T, like erectile dysfunction, depression, and decreased lean muscle mass.
The field as a whole has been slow to get options past
But the recently presented study, which included about 100 men who took pills for 28 days, found that 75% would take the pills again. Of the men taking a placebo (a dud pill), only 46% said they would take it again.
Three men who've tried such pills through trials at CRRC also told Insider they had positive experiences. Here are their stories.
Storm Benjamin said he felt 'mild euphoria and relaxation' on the pills
Storm Benjamin was scrolling through Facebook when he noticed an ad seeking participants for male contraception trials. The 31-year-old musician in Seattle doesn't want kids and had often heard from the women in his life — including his long-term partner — about the downsides of their birth-control methods, like acne and low libido.
"It always comes up that there's no hormonal male option, and that's just always sort of been in my head to some degree," he said. When the ad popped up, he thought: "It's something I can do to help get something out there into the market."
So after responding to the ad and undergoing screenings at CRRC in 2018, Benjamin was sent home with "an advent calendar" of pills to take every day for 12 weeks after a high-fat meal. (Past research has shown that one of the compounds included is more consistently effective when taken with sufficient fat). He visited the clinic about once a month to provide semen samples and undergo basic testing. He was compensated about $1,500. The results aren't yet public.
Benjamin said he didn't experience any negative side effects. "If anything, I did get this feeling after I would take the pills I can only describe as like mild euphoria and relaxation, which was really strange," he said. The researchers told Insider that could be a reaction to the synthetic hormones included in the drugs.
Benjamin said one downside was that each dose included five or six big pills, which he hopes would not be the case if it hits the market.
There were some slightly awkward moments, too, like when he went to the clinic to produce a sperm sample. "Everyone knows what's going on, and trying to be professional about what's happening," he said, noting that the center did supply "inspirational materials."
Benjamin said his experience was so positive he signed up for another trial testing a male birth control injection, which ended in May 2022. He preferred the pills since the shots were painful.
He said the only thing holding him back from a vasectomy is knowing that would prevent him from participating in future trials. His partner has asked, "Why don't you just get one?" Benjamin said. "And I was like, 'Well, what if I can still donate my body to science?"
Rufaro Huggins felt compelled to contribute to women's health after his wife's traumatic childbirth
When Rufaro Huggins' now-teenage son was born via emergency C-section, he felt helpless. He wasn't even always allowed in the room.
A similar feeling came up when he and Kayla were consulting with specialists about the potential risks of delivering a child again. "I realized there is so much put on the woman" both in planning for children, and enduring a pregnancy and childbirth, Huggins, 40, said.
The pair decided against a second child, and Huggins decided to get involved in CRRC's trials to "contribute, overall, to options for women's health," he said.
Since 2016, he's participated in several pill trials, including the one recently presented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting. He said he didn't notice any emotional changes, and the only physical one was a two-to-three pound weight gain. He's a long-distance runner training for a marathon, and was able to maintain his routine while taking the pills.
Huggins, who works for the state of Washington, said he would have signed up for another trial if the pandemic hadn't interfered. The current threats on abortion access in this country make such participation especially imperative, he said.
"I just feel like there's a lot more that we all could do in society, but particularly men, to make sure that there's balance and responsibility," he said. Men should "take on whatever we can to ensure that there's less pressure on a female to be responsible for giving birth or not giving birth, or deciding whether or not you're gonna grow a family."
Steve Owens participated in male contraceptive trials for over 20 years
As young newlyweds who didn't think they wanted kids, Steve Owens and his wife weren't satisfied with their long-term birth control options. They didn't like the idea of her being on hormonal contraceptives for decades, and condoms "felt like going backwards" as a married couple, Owens told Insider.
So when Owens, then in his 20s, heard on sports radio about a male contraceptive trial he could participate in, he jumped at the opportunity.
That was over 20 years ago, and Owens has joined many such trials run out of CRRC since. He's tried gels, implants, injections, and for the recent trial, pills, taking the occasional break to let his body reset and to conceive the couple's two children.
When Owens, a middle school teacher, turned 50 in February, he could no longer participate, and got a vasectomy.
He said the implant was the "coolest" birth-control method he's tested since he never had to think about it after it was inserted. The gels were his least favorite. "I don't even use lotion, so that was kind of a pain for me," he said.
Socially, the experience has been positive, too. People have tended to respond "that's cool!" when tells them what he's testing.
But Owens suspects the stigma around male birth control and a lack of research funding — which go hand in hand — are what are holding back all options from hitting the market.
"I'm a normal functioning person who's had a career, and there's nothing to be afraid of," he said. "I just think if more people knew about it, and knew how safe and effective it is, then it might get that much closer to being out there."
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