Male Birth Control: What are the Options?

When it comes to contraception, we believe that it’s a shared responsibility between sexual partners. But many of the most common forms of birth control, such as the pill and the implant, are female contraceptives. So, what options are there for men? Let’s take a look at the male birth control options to help you make an informed decision about what’s right for you or your partner.

Illustration of male birth control pill

What male contraception options are there? 

From pills to patches and implants to injections, it feels like there are tons of birth control options out there for women and we celebrate that choice. However, today we’re taking a look at male birth control and when it comes to contraceptives for men, the choice is still very limited. In fact, there are only two real options: condoms and vasectomies. 

Male birth control: condoms

Most people who’ve had sex are familiar with condoms. A protective barrier method of contraception, they work by preventing a sperm cell and egg cell from meeting by literally acting as a barrier. Condoms are worn on the penis, meaning the barrier works to prevent pregnancy during vaginal penetrative sex. 

Condoms are also the only method of birth control that protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which are passed between people during vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

Condoms are 87% effective with typical use and 98% effective with perfect use. Perfect use for a condom means always following the instructions, putting them on correctly, storing them correctly, and using them every time you have sex. The number for typical use reflects all ways people use condoms, from putting them on incorrectly, or forgetting to use one!

When it comes to protecting against STIs, condoms are very effective. While condoms can’t provide complete protection against STIs, with consistent and correct use, they’re considered to be effective. So, even if condoms aren’t your chosen method of birth control, it’s always a good idea to wear a condom with new partners until you both have a sexual health screening.

Male birth control: sterilization

The other main male birth control method is sterilization, otherwise known as a vasectomy. A vasectomy is a fairly simple surgical procedure, in which the tubes that carry a man’s sperm are cut or sealed off. That means that when a man ejaculates, the semen has no sperm in it, meaning pregnancy can’t happen.

Sterilization usually takes less than 15 minutes and is carried out under a local anesthetic so the patient is awake and aware of what’s happening, but won’t feel any pain.

There are two types of vasectomy, incision vasectomy and no-cut vasectomy:

  • With an incision vasectomy, the doctor will make two small incisions in the skin on either side of the scrotum, allowing them to get to the tubes that carry sperm out of the testicles. The tubes are cut and a small section removed, and then the ends of the tubes are closed. This is done either by tying them or sealing them with heat.
  • With a no-cut vasectomy, a small puncture hole will be made in the skin of the scrotum to reach the tubes, meaning the skin doesn’t need to be cut. The tubes are then closed in the same way, either by tying them or sealing them with heat.

A vasectomy is a permanent male birth control option that’s 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. Although in many cases it is possible to reverse a vasectomy, it doesn’t always work, and the chances of successfully reversing a vasectomy reduce over time. Therefore, it’s important to be sure that you don’t want children (or any more children), before going ahead with sterilization.

What about a male birth control pill?

Perhaps the most common method of birth control, the contraceptive pill, isn’t yet an option for people with penises… While there has been ongoing research into a male birth control pill - it’s not on the market yet and, in reality, it’s likely still some years away yet. 

There are currently trials ongoing for several male contraception pills, including two for drugs named DMAU and 11β-MNTDC respectively. Both of these are a class of drugs called progestogenic androgens that suppress the hormone testosterone - which, in turn, lowers sperm count.

Male contraceptive gel

The male pill isn’t the only experiment in male birth control options over the years. There are also ongoing trials for male contraceptive gels, including one called NES/T. This is a hormone-based treatment that men apply to their skin daily. 

The gel includes a combination of Nestorone (NES) and testosterone (T), which is designed to reduce sperm production. Early trials found that the gel successfully suppressed sperm, while the men in the study maintained healthy testosterone levels. That meant side effects such as reduced libido and weight gain were minimized.

Further studies are now taking place to determine whether the gel is safe and effective in preventing pregnancy - so watch this space to find out more about the contraceptive gel in the future.

Male birth control shot

Similarly, there are also ongoing studies looking into the viability of a male contraceptive injection. One trial looked at 320 men, who were given two injections, the ‘female’ hormone progestogen and the ‘male’ hormone testosterone.

The injections were deemed to work well enough, so the males in the study and their partners then relied on them as a method of contraception for a year. It was found that the injections were 98.4% effective against pregnancy, but there were many side effects to taking the injections, including acne and mood disorders.

The injection, gel, and pill may well be male contraceptive methods to look out for in the future. However, at the moment, there are just two effective methods: condoms and vasectomies.

So is the withdrawal method not effective?

The withdrawal method - or pulling out as it’s often called - has been around for centuries. But the oldest forms of contraception aren’t always the best! 

The withdrawal method is, quite simply, removing the penis from the vagina before ejaculation happens.

When used perfectly, the pull out method is 96% effective at preventing pregnancy. However, it’s not always possible to get the timing right with this method, and since the first surge of ejaculate contains the most sperm this makes it extra risky! Moreover, you can follow the method perfectly and still get pregnant as pre-ejaculate still contains semen. With typical use, the withdrawal method is just 80% effective.

A shared responsibility

From supporting men to get more involved in family planning to removing the burden of birth control from women, there are plenty of reasons to get excited about the development of more male contraceptive methods. 

But until then, it’s important to have open and honest conversations about what works best for you, whether you’re single or in a couple, and whether you prefer common methods of female contraception, natural birth control, or male contraceptives. 

At Natural Cycles we believe birth control is a shared responsibility. We’ve recently made it easier to open up the dialogue with our new Partner View feature, where partners can find out more and get involved in family planning - whether you’re trying to get pregnant or are using Natural Cycles as birth control. Learn more about how Natural Cycles works to find out more today.

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Written By

Lauren McKay

Lauren is an Edinburgh-based writer, yoga teacher, and advocate for driving women's health knowledge. When she's not at her laptop you'll find her in the yoga studio, running up a hill, or exploring Scotland's beautiful scenery.

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Scientifically Reviewed

Jack Pearson

With 10 years of experience working in the field of fertility, Dr. Jack Pearson is Natural Cycles’ in-house expert. As Medical Affairs Manager, he dedicates his time to conducting groundbreaking research and educating healthcare professionals.

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