No, the Male Birth-Control Study Wasn’t Halted Because Men Couldn’t Handle the Side Effects

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Male birth-control shots could eventually be a possibility.Photo: Sean Warren/Getty Images

Last week, a study came out that gave us hope in this dreary time. It revealed that we were one step closer to a male birth-control shot (hallelujah!), because a recent clinical trial found that hormonal injections given to men can help prevent pregnancy in female partners. However, the study also found that scientists needed to fine-tune the hormonal combination because of safety concerns.

Shortly after the study came out, though, headlines all over the internet claimed that the study was called off because men are weak and can’t handle the normal side effects of birth control that women regularly deal with. That’s not exactly accurate.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, was a phase II clinical trial that started out with 320 male participants, only 20 of whom ended up dropping out because of side effects (which included depression and mood changes, injection site pain, increased libido, acne, and more). Participants were given injections of progesterone and testosterone, and 75 percent of them reported that they would be willing to use this birth-control method after the trial ended.

The study was halted because of safety concerns raised by an independent safety-review board, not because men couldn’t handle the side effects. Additionally, one of the study participants committed suicide and another was unable to regain sperm function. “Women drop out of birth control and IUD studies all the time. I was just reading a study where of 175 women who enrolled, 20 dropped out by three months. That’s what happens; that’s why you overenroll for studies,” Dr. Jen Gunter, an ob-gyn who wasn’t involved in the study, told the Cut.

The safety-review board determined that “the risks to the study participants outweighed the potential benefits to the study participants,” according to the study. Most of the reported side effects appeared to be coming from only one of the centers where the study was being administered, Gunter noted, so the scientists are likely planning on analyzing that disparity. “We need to go and look back at the data and what was happening at the different study centers and figure that out, and then move forward and decide where to go from there,” she said.

All in all, the study showed that the hormonal shot was able to suppress sperm function in men and decrease their female partners’ risk of getting pregnant. But because it’s merely a phase II study, the formula is still in the early stages. “That’s what happens with a phase II study,” Gunter explained. “You do a study and you hope everything goes perfectly, but this is the time to find out if there are any issues from the new thing and go from there.”

Gunter doesn’t think the misreporting will affect the research in the long run, but she worries it could prevent people from wanting to participate in further studies. “Is somebody going to not bother because everybody is going to jump on them because they didn’t do it the way the internet wanted them to do it? There are reasons to have discussions with men on assuming contraceptive responsibility, but not over a phase II study,” she added.