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A birth control pill for men?

Although researchers often questioned whether men would be receptive to a male pill, surveys  indicated that men were willing to share the responsibility for contraception.[v] In 1973, 70 percent of men surveyed in three states and the District of Columbia said they would use a male contraceptive other than condoms or withdrawal.   The methods favored by most of the respondents was a pill or injection; 19 percent favored a reversible vasectomy,  84 percent believed that both partners have a responsibility for birth control, and 77 percent said they would help, “financially and morally,” in the event of a pregnancy if contraceptives used by either partner failed. [vi] But as a practical matter, a male contraceptive would need to have acceptable side effects – and most of the methods being developed did not.

The problem of side effects plagued the development of a pill for men from the outset.   As was the case with the female pill,  research on a male hormonal contraceptive began in the 1950s and grew out of efforts to treat infertility.  Gregory Pincus, while working on the female pill, conducted a small scale study testing the effects of Enovid on eight male patients in a mental hospital.  This ethically reprehensible research, though standard at the time, demonstrated that Enovid had a “sterilizing effect” on men, suggesting that it might provide the basis for a male contraceptive.  But the subject pool, besides being very small, was made up of psychotic men, which made it difficult to collect semen.  They all suffered serious side effects, such as shrunken testicles.   A similar clinical trial took place in 1958 among 20 “healthy adult males” who were prisoners at Oregon State Penitentiary.  The study tested two testosterone preparations and one progesterone compound (Enovid).  The compounds reduced sperm production to zero.  But all the subjects lost sexual desire, and had difficulty getting erections and producing seminal fluid.