Chelsea Krepps's picture

Male Contraception: The Next Sexual Revolution?

Just as the female birth control pill revolutionized women’s [[wysiwyg_imageupload:150:]]
sexual health in the 1960s, could a new innovation be under way that will once again shake up the way we view human sexuality and fertility?

Researchers developing a potential new cancer drug have discovered that the treatment, known currently as JQ1, may also function as a form of male birth control. During development of JQ1 as a cancer drug, Dr. James Bradner of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute looked at the effect of the molecule on healthy cells and found that in addition to inactivating structures within cancer cells, JQ1 also inhibited BRDT, a testis-specific protein that is essential to the production of sperm. Since Dr. Bradner’s lab is a cancer research lab, he worked with Dr. Martin Matzuk, a fertility specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, to test the contraceptive effectiveness of JQ1. Data on the drug’s contraceptive efficacy in mice was published in the August 2012 issue of Cell.

Development of an oral male contraceptive has been in the making for many years without much success, with no treatment moving past the clinical trial stage. One of the biggest issues with development of a male birth control pill is the need to match the efficacy of currently available forms of birth control, such as the female birth control pill or male condoms. The challenge to matching efficacy starts with basic biology. Unlike the ovaries, which typically produce one egg per menstrual cycle, testicles are constantly making lots of sperm, making efficacy much more difficult to achieve. While more studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of JQ1, researchers predict that men would have to be very responsible about continuously taking the pill.

If successful, JQ1 could be groundbreaking as a non-hormonal, oral and reversible contraceptive option for men. Women currently have several options available, including:

  • hormonal contraception like intrauterine devices, pills, patches, and injections;
  • barrier methods like condoms, diaphragms, and the cervical cap; and,
  • surgical options like tubal ligation or hysterectomy.

On the other hand, men can essentially choose between a condom and a vasectomy. JQ1 is unlikely to inhibit sexual performance because it does not have an effect on hormone levels. And it has been shown to be safe after discontinuance for future offspring in mice since the compound alters gene expression and not the actual genes.

While there would be a great opportunity to reach men who have previously had limited options, JQ1 would not be without its challenges. Like other products before it such as Viagra, JQ1 would bring with it a series of communications challenges:

  • Connecting with a consumer audience that has never experienced a similar option before,
  • Operating in a health area that can be a sensitive subject, and
  • Engaging health professionals and other stakeholders about a new medication regimen.

To reach its full potential as an effective contraceptive option, public education about the effectiveness of JQ1, the benefit of having additional control over contraception and the responsibility of adhering to treatment guidelines would be needed.

Just like the female birth control pill did, an oral, non-hormonal form of male birth control would likely have major implications on contraception. A male birth control pill would have potential to change the way we talk about fertility and reproduction by providing a new option for men to have control and responsibility of contraception. While this stage may still be years away, recent research looks promising.