Why has the field of male contraception not seen any progress?
The condom is over 5000 years old dating back to 3000 BC but apart from that and a vasectomy there’s been no advancement in male contraception. It’s common knowledge that the female body produces just one or two fertile eggs in a month, but the male body produces sperm daily.
A man’s sperm count needs to be somewhere between 1 to 10 million per millilitre for him to be fertile and the body produces hundreds and thousands of sperm daily. According to Washington State University Biologist, Michael Skinner there’s a way of reducing the number of sperm in the body and still being completely fertile. However, getting there is nearly impossible without side effects like low a sex drive, erectile dysfunction and reduced muscle mass. The sperm count is in proportion with the testosterones in the body. So, if you bring down the testosterone count, it brings down the sperm count but with a major side effect of low libido and very little testosterones to act on other tissues. Scientists also tried killing the germ cells that produce the sperm, but these cells are situated in a fortress like structure in the testicles. Multiple compounds have been tried and tested but it’s impossible to go past the barrier and kill the cell. However, Skinner is working on shutting down Sertoli cells which are part of the barrier to make it easier to shut down the germ cells.
Apart from biology, another bottleneck in the advancement of male contraceptives is that of lack of funding. In 2002, two pharma companies namely Sheering and Organon had a breakthrough in a hormone based male contraceptive. However, with the long-term side effects being unknown, it became very low priority for the pharmaceutical companies. The funding mainly comes from government agencies like the National Institutes of Health.
Breakthrough Ideas So Far
LA Biomed Researcher Dr. Christina Wang is working on a gel that can lower testosterone in the testicles where sperm is produced while keeping testosterones intact in the rest of the body. Skinner is also working on a reversible vasectomy where a gel is inserted into the vas deferens creating a plug instead of cutting it and a chemical mixture can dissolve the plug thereby bring back the fertility.
With the correct funding, these new options may see the light of day in the next few years.