Why Is It So Hard to Make a Male Birth Control Pill?

[♪ INTRO ] At a meeting of endocrinologists this month,
researchers presented new work that suggests they’re one step closer to a male birth
control pill! Do you feel like you’ve heard this news before? Well, that’s probably because you have. Scientists have been looking into a safe,
reversible kind of male birth control for decades and they’ve gotten close, but not
quite there. Even here on SciShow, we’ve reported on
things like chromatin remodeling, hormone injections, and a dissolvable gel that plugs
up the vas deferens — AKA the sperm tubes. Researchers call these treatments “male
birth control” for short, because they’re tested in cisgender males who are making sperm. So why’s it so tricky to make a male pill? The short answer is: it’s a lot easier to
stop one egg a month than millions of sperm a day. The female birth control pill has been around
since 1960 — nearly 60 years ago! And it’s one of many options out there. The pill has synthetic hormones — either
a combination of estrogen and progestin, or progestin alone. So it stabilizes hormone levels and prevents
the spike in estrogen that normally happens midway through the menstrual cycle, setting
off a chain of events that lead to ovulation. Without that spike, no egg is released and
no babies are made. Very rarely, the female birth control pill
can have serious side effects, like blood clots or heart problems. But it has some potential health benefits
too, like reducing bone thinning, anemia, or risk of some cancers. Other than condoms, vasectomies, and withdrawal…
there aren’t many male birth control options. And nothing based on hormones has panned out. On average, men release around 180 million
sperm every time they ejaculate. It only takes one to fertilize an egg and
get their partner pregnant. So… that’s a lot of sperm to deal with. Instead of physically stopping them, like
a condom does, male pills aim to lower the sperm count. Basically, stopping the production of sperm
cells, but leaving the rest of the semen alone. And the basic strategy for this is kind of
counterintuitive. It turns out that if you give men lots of
testosterone, they stop making sperm. Sperm are produced in the testes, which are
also testosterone factories. So testosterone levels are really high in
there, like 25-125 times higher than in blood. And sperm need those high concentrations of
testosterone to develop correctly. But when a dude gets an injection or a pill
of extra testosterone, the brain and pituitary gland sense that body-wide levels are high
enough and shut off production in the testes. With no testosterone being made down there,
the concentration drops, and sperm don’t develop. Previous attempts at male hormonal contraception
involved weekly or monthly doses of synthetic testosterone. And if you add progestin, these injections,
implants, or patches worked even better. But even though they were good at stopping
sperm production, there were drawbacks. It was difficult to get synchronized, steady
levels of testosterone and progestin. And weekly, or even monthly, injections aren’t
as convenient as a daily pill you can take at home. Birth control doesn’t work if you can’t
get people to use it. Plus, some men had unpleasant side effects
like pain at the injection site, acne, or changes in mood including more aggression. Researchers were wary of giving the necessary
big doses of oral testosterone, too, because previous studies have shown that this can
be really hard on the liver. Not to mention, the body clears this orally-delivered
testosterone pretty quickly so pills have to be taken twice a day. So what makes this new male pill different? This research is a team effort from scientists
at the University of Washington and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute. And they presented their work at the recent
Endocrine Society meeting in Chicago. Their experiments focused on a compound called
dimethandrolone undecanoate or DMAU. It has a different structure than testosterone
that lets it hang around in the body longer, which keeps levels steady even if it’s only
taken once a day. DMAU is considered a pro-drug, because it’s
converted to an active molecule that interacts with the body after it’s ingested. In this case, enzymes called esterases change
DMAU into dimethandrolone or DMA. And DMA binds to the same hormone receptors
as testosterone and progestin throughout the body. Just like testosterone given in a pill or
injection, DMA tricks the body into producing less testosterone in the testes, so concentrations
there drop and sperm aren’t produced. When the researchers tested this in animals
it worked pretty well. It even stopped sperm production in rabbits,
who have legendary fertility. Sounds promising, right? This research is getting a lot of attention,
but it’s still in the early stages. Here’s how the recent experiment went down:
researchers had 83 men between ages 18 and 50 take DMAU pills daily for 28 days. They also took blood samples before and after,
to check for hormone levels and other health markers like cholesterol. And the scientists found that the testosterone
in the participants’ blood decreased to very low levels — levels that suggested
that sperm production was effectively shut down. Now, it’s important to note though that they
didn’t actually measure sperm count. This study was mostly to test whether the
pill is safe. And it seems like it is! The participants didn’t report any significant
changes in sex drive, sexual function, or any serious side effects with their livers
or kidneys, which were all potential concerns. Some men had mild weight gain and increased
red blood cell count. And some had slightly decreased levels of
the good form of cholesterol, but these weren’t serious problems. The research team is starting another study
soon that will follow men taking the DMAU pill for a longer period of time, and take
semen samples to measure their sperm production. So whether it’s this team or another than
makes the breakthrough… safe, convenient, reversible male birth control will definitely
be a pretty big deal. And you know who else is a big deal? SR Foxley, our SciShow President of Space. He’s actually pretty humble, but he’s
a big deal to us because he helps make SciShow possible every month so we can bring you the
latest in science news and dig deep into big questions. Thanks SR! You are the best! And to learn more about how you can help us
out too, check out patreon.com/scishow. [♪ OUTRO ]

100 Replies to “Why Is It So Hard to Make a Male Birth Control Pill?”

  1. It's always frustrating when a promising method fails, but when it comes to health, sexual health especially I am glad we have such thorough vetting processes for new meds. As much as I want to take matters into my own hands, id rather rely on tried and true safe methods of protection than risk lifelong issues from complications of a poorly tested pill.

  2. Uuughhh the female birth control has always had side effects that also include mood changes, acne and other hormonal consequences. Also way to ignore cultural factors like how pregnancy is seen as a female problem and therefore why it has taken so much longer to research male bc…. Ugh…

  3. Doesn't the decreased production of testosterone in the testes lead to other problems in the male body? Like becoming more female or sth like that?

  4. You know, the female pill (and pretty much every other medication) causes side effects as well. There's never going to be a perfect solution, if that's what people are waiting for.

  5. Do we really need to say "cis-gender males"? Is there a question of whether male birth control is intended for biological females currently identifying as males? Or post-op but infertile males? Seriously?

  6. If you were so careful to use gender-neutral terms when speaking of pregnant or menstruating persons, why so carelessly use "men" in this video? I'm offended by this gender discrimination, where men are men, but women are persons.

  7. I just hope they don't make one similar to female birth control. it makes many girls gain weight, suffer depression, blot clots etc so many side effects

  8. underdeveloped sperm? what if a guy ends up with defective sperm that ends up impregnating a woman? will the risk of giving birth to a "handicapped" child be higher? if kids are born from mothers over the age of 40 (I don't mean to offend but their eggs are more likely to be "defective," for a better lack of wording, and give the child extra chromosomes) they have higher chances of having mental and physical issues such as extra chromosomes–chances of giving birth to children with downs syndrome is higher for older mothers. male sperm count is already dwindling, it is possible that less healthier sperm is being created. I really hope that whatever male birth control pill that ends up being marketed doesn't affect "happy little accidents" or male health

  9. To all the people pouting about "cisgender" and going on rants about there only being 2 sexes, need I remind you that intersex people exist? It's not a trans thing, it's not an identity thing, they're people who are born with genitals that fall somewhere between your standard penises and vaginas. I'm not making it up, and I encourage you to educate yourselves. http://www.isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex

  10. Wth? Low testosterone has horrible effects for men, to purposefully reduce testosterone just to stop sperm production is absurd.

  11. Just want to say I really appreciate that you used the term cisgender as otherwise I would have been confused. Don’t listen to the haters, you’re great💙👏🏻

  12. I've read that it takes much more than one sperm to fertilise an egg, as it needs multiple sperm to be beating at the cell wall of the egg to weaken it enough for a single sperm to enter. One sperm alone wouldn't be capable of doing this- it would die (deplete energy/ATP levels) well before reaching the point of being able to breach the egg cell wall…

  13. Uh if they have a compound that makes your body think it has enough testosterone without adding testosterone, then you'll have low testosterone………..

  14. How do you explain this?…

  15. Unpleasant side effects like injection site pain, acne and mood changes. So, like, similar things that people with vaginas can (and do) experience with our birth control.

    Men are wimps.

  16. Ah yes. “Unpleasant side effects “

    Like those things female BC cause. Like weight gain, high blood pressure, and nausea.

  17. And you know whats also a pretty big deal? Trying to get all these things right and covered up in your explaination wich is great, but also saying side effects like mood swings and pysical risks would also effect male people who take birth control. I mean come on get your facts right!

  18. Aw boohoo the men had side effects like acne and mood changes. Tell that to thousands of women who mess their bodies up from the pill

  19. lOl men had mood swings with their birth control and they were like "nah not cool" but women's birth control causes mood alterations and everyone's like "who cares? no kids."

  20. "Unpleasant side effects (2:41) such as pain at ejection site, acne and changes in mood"

    That terrible if men where to go through with that! Good thing women don't get any of those when they use birth control. (Sarcastic)

  21. Birth control doesn't work if you don't take it. I'm gonna be honest with you. The risk of it is more than half the fun. Having less testosterone floating about within me would probably turn me (and a lot of other men) into a beta males. It's what gives us our nerve and musk and makes manly men manly. I'm not saying more is better either. Natural amounts are what our bodies were literally designed to make. I'll never take male birth control. Condoms, I'll use for strangers. But there's a rule with them. Never bust in the condom. While it's "in" use. If you know what I mean. But trying to alter or stop the way my body produces reproductive material will never happen.

  22. oh nooo it made them moody, that must be terrible to go through for that for an entire week on a monthly basis >_>

  23. Very interesting, but would you consider correcting your terminology confusing gender construct with biology? It's very misleading. Many men have menstrual cycles and many women produce sperm. Gender is not the same as biological sex.

  24. Omg those side effects, are the worse thing that could happen to a person EVER! Toughen up guys we deal with this and more with our pills, you are going to be okay.

  25. I honestly can't wait till they get this right, is so unfair that women have this responsibility all for themselves, I'm a woman and after using many birth control methods I can say all of them have BAD consequences. WOMEN NEED A METHOD FOR GUYS, THIS IS SO UNFAIR!!

  26. This is probably why some feminists protested against the male pill. Last thing we need are men becoming more aggressive.

  27. Did I really here them say withdraw is a birth control method, wtf no what are you teaching kid who watch this show. SMH. Also birth control with women has many more side effects and it’s pretty common

  28. Seems this stuff is always 5 years away. It also seems most men are more willing than women to put up with it.

  29. it is because you males a little babies the moment you feel a little sick or a little pain from birth control the entire study gets shutdown because you dont know how to suck it up with anything

    thx for this ha bisky vid and part of the problem is the MRAs always trying to say birth control should 100% be put on the females and they also want to take away our right for abortions to be safe legal on demand when abortions should be paid for by the government

  30. Oh too bad…. Ofcourse, you can't have changing moods, acne or pain……. That would be bad, wouldn't it? It's not like any other gender is going through that or anything, right?

  31. This is a convenient place to mention that all studies on new drugs are done this way. Their safety is tested before any evaluation of their intended effect. It absolutely has to be done this way for the safety of the participants, but it does mean that a drug can get into the final phase of human testing only to finally fail then because it doesn't actually work at all in humans.

  32. You people do realise these DMAU is just anabolic steroids right although specifically developed for male contraception its till utterly useless because your going to have that shutdown if you come off it will take a long time for natural testosterone production to come back unless you were to run various drugs such at anti-oestrogen too try and force the body too produce more testosterone waste of time not every good this ''male contraceptive'' will get no where these mess with your hormones and males can't bounce back as easily lots of side effects as well as chance of long term infertility and testosterone shut down even when you come off

  33. Women’s pill has the same side effects like depression, weight gain, acne and other crap but god forbid men have to go through it too? And not to mention we have to take it at the same time every single day.

  34. Mood swings and acne are among the very very common side effects of the female birth control pill!! As well as depression (almost every one of my friends who took the pill experienced depression that disappeared when they stopped), fatigue, loss of libido, weight gain. Those are the ones listed in the pill box! I myself had very vivid suicidal thoughts that completely disappeared when I stopped the pill, it was like pressing a light switch, it took 3 days and it was gone. The pill wrecked my liver (medical opinion, I didn't invent that), my kidneys and digestive system were functioning poorly. I'm still recovering from 10 months on the pill, 2 years later. I'm so tired of hearing that the female birth control pill doesn't have side effects and that mood swings and acne caused by the male birth control pill are reasons enough not to sell it. I don't want humans with testies to be poisoned like humans with ovaries are… but I'd like the double standard to stop!

  35. Why are you not mentioning that out of 100 males that participated in the study 82 completed the study. Hmm, I wonder why those 18 men stopped even before the study period ended..

  36. we tried synthetic testosterone, it's called steroids, and the effects on testosterone production are permanent. Once your testicles shut off they won't turn on again. It's not safe at all

  37. It's probably because they made the female pill by kidnapping, raping and killing hundreds of Puerto Rican women, and people would get mad if that happened to dudes

  38. Men are big babies is what I got from that. Poor babies have unpleasant side effects. -_- Gotta be kidding me.

  39. Hormomal pills also mask any actual fertility issues a woman may have with her cycle. It takes on average a few months upon stopping birth control to conceive. And if she had issues before going on the pill to "fix" it, it's still a problem when she comes off, which can be frustrating when you've avoided pregnancy for years and are now ready to get pregnant but have to start working on it first, when you could have been all along.

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