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New research on a 'male pill' shows promise

Birth Control

June 13, 1996
Web posted at: 12:45 a.m. EDT

From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland

(CNN) -- The day may soon arrive when both men and women can get prescriptions filled for the pill. Researchers have proven for the first time that a male birth control pill is possible, but the findings are preliminary.

"This is the initial study just to show the feasibility or possibility to use an agent by mouth," says Dr. William Bremner of the VA Medical Center in Seattle.


The pill consists of two hormones: testosterone and a progestin. Presenting the results at the International Congress of Endocrinology, Italian and American researchers said that in all eight Italian men they tested, the pill lowered sperm counts to very low levels. Half the men had sperm counts of zero.

And so far, this pill appears to have few ill side effects.

"This combination has been remarkably free of side effects so far," Dr. Bremner said, "but as I've stressed, it's quite early with relatively few men, so it's possible something additional could turn up."

Researchers have tried for years to develop a birth control pill for men, but there have always been drawbacks, such as toxicity or causing impotence or long-term infertility.


For the pill Dr. Bremner is testing, the next step is to see if it prevents pregnancy. But even if a male pill makes it into the marketplace, will men be willing to use it?

"It's a popular trend of sharing family responsibilities," said research participant Darwin Hughes, "and I think it's a wonderful alternative to condoms."

"I think it's time men take responsibility of their own birth control," said Dave Grason, another participant.

But these men may not be a representative sample. They're part of another study on male contraceptives that involves taking a combination of injections and pills. Since some men may not be willing to take daily pills, or have frequent injections, researchers are also experimenting with a contraceptive that lasts several months.


"We're trying to develop a group of options for men, as have been available for women, to try to allow an option that an individual man would find acceptable," Bremner said.

Bremner and other researchers predict men and women will have equal opportunity in birth control options within several years.

But because of the potential for lawsuits and society's resistance to using male birth control, getting pharmaceutical companies interested in producing a male contraceptive presents yet another challenge.

Watch CNN's "Your Health" for a weekly dose of medical news.

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