Male Birth Control Pills Finally On the Horizon

Every couple of years, a new birth control method for women pops up on pharmacy shelves or in your gyno’s office that is safe, easy, and super-effective—for example, the extended cycle pill, OTC emergency contraception, and the shorter-term Skyla IUD all made their debuts in the last decade.

But for guys? Their options are stuck in a time warp. If a man wants to take pregnancy prevention into his own hands, his choice basically comes down to condoms, a vasectomy, withdrawal, or abstinence. That’s why it’s so amazing that scientists are finally developing some real advancements when it comes to male contraception.

Researchers writing in the April issue of the Open Access Journal Contraception published a rundown of the top emerging options. A few hold real promise, particularly a daily or weekly pill that would deliver a dose of artificial hormones to a guy’s bloodstream, which would then act on reproductive hormones to stop sperm from being produced. Like the female hormonal pill, the male hormonal pill would be reversible. But also like the female hormonal pill, there appear to be side effects—among them acne, weight gain, and even trickier to work around, changes in testosterone levels that trigger a plunge in libido, says review coauthor Deborah A. Garside, a member of the department of medicine at Imperial College in London, UK.

Non-hormonal techniques are also being developed, particularly a vaccine that immunizes men with antibodies to halt to sperm production. This so-called male birth-control shot is encouraging, says Garside, because it targets sperm directly (rather than targeting other hormones in the body) and doesn’t have the testosterone-lowering side effects of a hormonal pill. Each injection would last for long intervals (experts aren’t yet sure how long), but the pregnancy-preventing effects would be reversible if and when a guy decides he’s ready to be a dad.

So when can you expect to see men rushing out to the pharmacy counter to pick up their new birth control Rx? “I think we may see a novel male contraceptive within 10 years,” says Garside. That may seem far off, but hey—at least it’s finally within sight.

An international poll cited in the article showed that only two percent of women in monogamous relationships would not trust their partner to take a male contraception method. How about you—would you rely on your guy to take a birth control pill or shot as directed?

  • Yep, definitely.
  • No way!
  • I’d trust him to at least tell me if he messed up and we needed a backup method.
  • I’m single.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Some Birth Control Linked to Pain During Sex

Birth control pills come with a whole lot of perks. But, as with any medication, women on the pill may also experience some side effects, including this potential one: Low-dose birth control pills may put you at higher risk for both chronic pelvic pain syndrome and pain during sex, according to new research presented last week at the American Urological Association’s annual meeting.

Lead author Nirit Rosenblum, MD, an assistant professor in the urology department at New York University Langone Medical Center, noticed a number of young women coming into her practice over the years who complained of varying pelvic pain symptoms—vaginal pain, pain in the lower part of the abdomen, “anything sort of below the belly button,” says Rosenblum. The common thread with these patients: Many of them were on low-dose birth control pills.

So Rosenblum and her colleagues set up an anonymous survey of more than 900 women ages 18 to 39 to investigate. The women on the low-dose pills were significantly more likely to fit the criteria for chronic pelvic pain syndrome than the women who weren’t on birth control pills or even those who were on normal-dose pills. And they were also much more likely to report pain during or after orgasm than either of the other two groups.

This survey only showed a link between the low-dose pills and pelvic pain, not causation. But if the low-dose pills are behind the pain, Rosenblum says it might be because of a dose-dependent mechanism: Women on low-dose pills have especially low levels of estrogen (women on normal-dose pills also have lower estrogen levels than those not on the Pill, but not quite as low as women on low-dose pills), so those low estrogen levels might somehow be coming into play here. The bottom line: More research needs to be done to understand why this higher incidence of pelvic pain may be happening, says Rosenblum.

If you’re currently on a low-dose pill and experiencing these symptoms, Rosenblum says the first thing you need to do is talk to your doctor, who will work with you to rule out other explanations for the discomfort. If the signs are pointing toward your pill, alternative options include going off of it, trying a higher-dose pill, or switching to a different birth control method.

Rosenblum says she doesn’t think these pelvic pain symptoms are dangerous, but that it’s important for patients to be aware of the link. “When you’re given any medication, you have to understand the potential side effects so that you can be a self advocate,” says Rosenblum. “You have to decide if the benefit of taking the medication is worth either the risk involved or the potential side effects, which may not be risky, but can affect quality of life.”


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6 Awesome Benefits of Birth Control

You already know that birth control offers ridiculously reliable protection against unplanned pregnancies—assuming you’re using it correctly, that is. But BC actually has a lot of other amazing social and lifestyle benefits, too. Researchers at the family planning organization the Guttmacher Institute recently crunched the numbers, finding that women who regularly use contraception tend to have more years of education under their belt and greater economic stability—and they also form romantic partnerships that are more solid when compared to women who aren’t contraception-covered. The best part is, these aren’t the only perks. Check out some of little-known health benefits of birth control, particularly the hormonal kind.

It can cut your odds of some cancers
Women who go on the pill, ring, or other combined estrogen-progestin methods for 15 years slash their lifetime risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers by approximately 50 percent, according to a 2010 study. The thinking here is that hormonal BC blocks ovulation and evens out natural hormone imbalances, leading to less exposure to potentially damaging hormones, says Christine Proudfit, MD, an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. One caveat: Some research suggests that taking oral contraceptives may slightly increase your risk of breast and cervical cancer, so you’ll want to talk to your doctor about whether hormonal birth control is right for you if you have a family history of either disease.

It smoothes out your skin
Combination contraception lowers your body’s levels of testosterone, which all women make in small amounts. That spells good news for your skin since the hormone is the culprit behind acne breakouts and excess body hair growth, says Proudfit.

It shields you from an energy-crushing condition
Women who suffer from heavy periods lose excess blood every month, and that can lead to anemia—a condition characterized by fatigue and weakness. Going on hormonal birth control makes periods shorter and lighter, so you lose less blood and aren’t robbed of your stamina, says Proudfit.

It wards off a fertility-threatening infection
Although many people fear that staying on birth control for too long will negatively affect their baby-making abilities, the opposite is actually true. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is a serious infection of the reproductive tract that, if left untreated, can compromise your fertility. The progestin in hormonal birth control makes cervical mucus thicker, says Proudfit, and research suggests that this forms a roadblock that prevents PID-causing microbes from entering your system.

It protects you from migraines
Hormonal ups and downs just before and during menstruation leave many women debilitated by killer migraine headaches. Hormonal contraception, including progestin-only pills, can ease or even stop these cyclical skull-throbbers, says Proudfit.

It can stabilize and even boost your mood
Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels during the days before your period can make you wigged out, irritable, and even depressed. Hormonal contraception steadies those fluctuations, so you feel like yourself all month long. As for the happiness boost, this comes from the peace of mind you get by knowing your body is baby-proofed. Couples who experience an unplanned bundle of joy are more apt to feel anxious and depressed, according to the Guttmacher report.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Caution: Birth Control and Migraines Don’t Mix

Dealing with migraines is enough of a headache. But if you’re on birth control, it gets even more complicated. Women who get migraines and use newer forms of combination birth control, which involve two or more hormones, are at greater risk of blood clots and stroke, finds new research out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The risk is higher if you have migraines with aura—those delightful visual hallucinations that accompany your headache.

Researchers analyzed the medical records of 145,304 women who were using combination birth control between 2001 and 2012. They found that women with migraines had an increased risk of blood clots or stroke compared to women without migraines. A smaller subset, women with migraines with aura, were at even greater risk. The highest-risk group of all? Women who had migraines with aura who were also taking newer forms of combination birth control, such as YAZ, the patch, and the NuvaRing. According to the research, 7.6 percent of women with migraines with aura who used drospirenone-ethinyl estradiol (aka YAZ) were diagnosed with blood clots, compared with 6.3 percent of women with aura-free migraines who were also on the birth control (stats about women who fell into other groups who were diagnosed with blood clots haven’t yet been released).

The researchers stress that the data is just preliminary. But the study builds on decades of research linking migraines with aura to increased cardiovascular risk, particularly for women on birth control. Having migraines already puts you at risk of having heart problems, says Tobias Kurth, MD, adjunct associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not involved with the study. And it’s well-known that blood clots are a potential side effect of using birth control. Together, migraines and birth control may increase your risk levels, says Kurth. That said, it’s important to note that the research may have some confounding variables. For instance, it’s possible that more people with migraines are prescribed the newer forms of birth control because so much research links the older forms with cardiovascular risk. When those people get a stroke or blood clot, it’s not clear if it’s caused by the new birth control or their pre-existing condition.

Kurth says that if you’re on birth control and susceptible to migraines, it’s best to discuss your options with your doctor. One thing to keep in mind: Lighting up puts you in even greater danger. If you suffer from migraines with aura and are on birth control, you absolutely have to stop smoking—or give up the oral contraceptives, says Kurth.

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More From Women’s Health:
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Sneaky Headache Triggers to Avoid
Side Effects of Birth Control

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Need-to-Know Birth Control Info

Depo-Provera is a contraceptive shot used by millions of women since it was approved by the FDA two decades ago: Your gyno gives you a jab (usually to your upper arm) once every three months, and it has a 99.7 percent effectiveness rate at keeping you baby-free. That’s as good as the pill, without the added stress of remembering to take it every day.

But as a new report from the journal Integrative Medicine points out, studies link Depo-Provera to a greater risk of bone fractures, fertility issues, and even HIV. If you currently rely on Depo or you’re considering going on it, here’s what you need to know.

The side effects might be rougher
Depo-Provera is a progestin-only BC; this artificial hormone puts the brakes on baby-making by blocking ovulation and thickening cervical mucus. But because Depo contains more progestin than other progestin-only varieties (such as the Mirena IUD and the mini-pill), users report more fatigue, weight gain, irregular periods, and other mental and physical side effects, according to the article in Integrative Medicine. That being said, not every woman who takes it deals with hormonal hell. In fact, some actually feel better on Depo.

“Many of my patients say that their PMS symptoms go away,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of ob-gyn at Yale University School of Medicine. Talking to your doctor beforehand can help you suss out how Depo might affect you.

Your fertility takes time to rebound
Hoping to get pregnant in the not-so-distant future? Depo-Provera might mess with your plans. After you stop getting the shots, it can take up to nine months for your fertility to fully return, thanks to the long-lasting hormone dosage Depo delivers to your bloodstream, Minkin says. So if you think you might want to get pregnant before then, go with another birth control method.

It can weaken your bones
Osteoporosis probably isn’t on your radar right now, but it’s something women who take Depo may have to consider. Studies show that Depo-Provera reduces bone mineral density, potentially setting users up for an increase in fractures and even this dreaded brittle-bone disease later in life. In light of this, the FDA mandates a warning on the drug’s label stating that the longer a woman takes Depo, the weaker her bone density may be. The jury is still out, however, on whether this bone loss is reversible. Some research has shown that once a woman quits Depo, her bone health returns to normal, Minkin says. To play it safe, the FDA advises not taking Depo for more than two continuous years.

The link to HIV is questionable
A 2011 study found that Depo-Provera doubled the risk of transmitting and contracting HIV. But hold on—because the study only looked at Sub-Saharan African women who either had HIV or whose partner carried the virus, and since it’s not clear if the association is due to Depo itself or the study participants’ behavior, the results aren’t reliable, Minkin says. “Like all hormonal birth control methods, Depo-Provera does not protect against STDs and HIV—so condoms are a must.”

photo: Hemera/Thinkstock

More from Women’s Health:
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Your Doctor’s Favorite Birth Control Method

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Will Birth Control Be OTC Soon?

Wouldn’t it be great if getting birth control were as easy as picking up a bottle of Tylenol? Well, a major medical group thinks it should be. Last week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended that birth control should be available as an over-the-counter drug, in order to make it significantly more accessible than it currently is.

One major benefit of more accessible BC? The unintended pregnancy rate—which is now at 50 percent of all pregnancies in the US—will drop. And a lower unintended pregnancy rate can only be a good thing. Not only is reproductive control important for women’s autonomy and their ability to make the best choices for themselves, but choosing to get pregnant, rather than getting pregnant by accident, is also better for women’s health and the health of their kids.

From the ACOG statement: “Unintended pregnancy remains a major public health problem in the United States. According to the Institute of Medicine, women with unintended pregnancy are more likely to smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy, have depression, experience domestic violence, and are less likely to obtain prenatal care or breastfeed.” In short: greater access to the Pill doesn’t just give women control over their futures—it also helps guarantee that they’ll have healthier pregnancies.

“We want to think of the idea of optimized pregnancy,” says Ashlesha Patel, MD, MPH, System Director of Family Planning Services of Cook County Healthy & Hospitals System, Chicago. And contraceptive planning and provision helps ensure that the timing, the health of the mother, and the future of the child are all ideal, she says. “It’s a very safe category of drugs that women need free access to, in order to make sure that they’re compliant and adherent.”

Unfortunately, in spite of ACOG’s recommendation, the Pill and other forms of hormonal birth control aren’t available without a prescription—yet. That said, birth control is about to become more accessible than it ever has been. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, if you already have private health insurance, you might be able to get certain brands and methods of birth control without a co-pay or deductible. Some insurance plans already offer this coverage, while others will roll this out over the next few years, according to Planned Parenthood. Not sure what your options are? Call the member services number on the back of your insurance card to get the low-down.

photo: Digital Vision/Thinkstock

More from WH:
The History of Birth Control
Which Birth Control is Right for You?
What to Ask Your Gyno About Birth Control

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Are You At Risk of Messing Up Your Birth Control?

Feeling sad or anxious? Your reproductive health might be at risk. Women with symptoms of depression or stress are significantly less likely to use birth control consistently, according to a study recently presented at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting. Inconsistent use of birth control can lead to greater risk of unwanted pregnancy and contracting STIs.

Researchers assessed the mental health of 689 18-to-19-year-old women and then asked them to report their sexual activity and birth control usage every week for two and a half years. While the study participants used contraceptives consistently 72 percent of the time, women with moderate-to-severe symptoms of depression were 47 percent less likely to use birth control consistently, and women with moderate-to-severe symptoms of stress were 69 percent less likely to use contraceptive consistently. The reasons given: 31 percent said they forgot, 21 percent didn’t have their contraceptive method available, 6 percent weren’t happy with the method, another 6 percent said their partner didn’t want to use the method, and 4 percent weren’t trying to avoid pregnancy. The remaining 33 percent didn’t specify a reason for not using protection.

Your mental health impacts how well you take care of your physical—and reproductive—health, says Kelli Stidham Hall, PhD, research investigator at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, who presented the study findings. “Feeling sad, down, in despair, and worthless can impact general thought processing and can interfere with your ability to make decisions,” she says. That includes decisions about contraceptive use, and it’s especially true when it comes to birth control that requires actual effort—like remembering to take a pill at the same time every day. Stidham Hall points out that symptoms of depression, like lack of energy or interest, or feeling moderate-to-severe stress, which can make everything you do feel overwhelming, can be major roadblocks to appropriate birth control use.

For women who suffer from stress or depression (either occasionally or as a diagnosis), the best birth control options are those that are easiest to use, Stidham Hall says. She recommends long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal implants.

“For women who don’t want to deal with taking daily pills, or using a condom every time, LARCs can be ideal, and allow these women to tend to other issues that need more attention,” she says. LARCs require no thought at all once they’re implanted, and have been shown to have over 99 percent effectiveness in protecting against unwanted pregnancy. Check out this birth control chart to compare their cost and effectiveness against other options, and make your gynecologist aware of your mental state so he or she can help identify the contraception that’s best for you.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Does IVF Cause Birth Defects?

For women who consider in vitro fertilization to become pregnant, new information might make them reconsider their options. But that’s not necessarily the right move.

First, the troubling data: An infant born as the result of (IVF) is 1.25 times more likely to have birth defects than a naturally conceived baby with similar maternal characteristics, according to an analysis presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition. IVF infants were particularly likely to have birth defects of the eye, heart, reproductive organs, and urinary systems.

In IVF, a woman takes hormones to stimulate her ovaries to release multiple eggs, which are fertilized in a lab and then transferred back into the uterus.

The analysis compared infants born following the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), which includes all fertility treatments in which both eggs and sperm are handled, versus infants who were conceived naturally. In vitro fertilization is the most common form of ART. Other fertility treatments, such as artificial insemination or ovulation induction, were analyzed separately and were not associated with increased risk of birth defects.

But before you rule out IVF altogether, take a pause. An increased risk of birth defects sounds scary, but researchers stressed that association does not equal causation. “Our results do not prove that ART causes birth defects,” says study author Lorraine Kelley-Quon, M.D., surgery resident at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the research at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. Rather, she says, the analysis highlights “an interesting association” between IVF and birth defects, which is supported by research from Europe and Australia.

So why does this association exist? Experts aren’t entirely sure. Kelley-Quon says that study only examined whether a mother received ART therapy or not; researchers did not track how many treatments she had, her age at the time of ART, or other factors which may be related to overall risk of birth defects. In short: further research is needed.

Before you get really freaked out, Kelley-Quon shared a bit of encouragement. “Couples considering ART should be reassured that there are tens of thousands of infants born after ART each year that are perfectly healthy,” she says. “The results of our study show a small but significant increase in risk for infants born after ART that is in addition to the known maternal risk factors present in many women seeking treatment.”

How small of an increase? Nine percent of babies born after IVF had birth defects (about 1 in 15), versus 6.6% of infants conceived naturally (1 in 11).

“The overall goal of our research is to enable couples considering ART to fully understand the potential risks associated with the procedure so that they can make an informed decision with their physician,” she says.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Is IVF Dangerous?
Advice for Getting Pregnant
Infertility in Men: Are His Swimmers Stuck?

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Free Birth Control Lowers Abortion Rates

birth control: IUDNew research from Washington University in St. Louis reveals that women who receive birth control for free are less likely to have an unplanned pregnancy—and also less likely to have abortions—than women in the general population.

The study, published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, followed more than 9,000 women over five years starting in 2007. Researchers educated the women—ages 14 to 45, many of them poor or uninsured—about different kinds of birth control and gave them their choice of method at no cost.

When given their pick of contraceptive, 75 percent of the women chose implantable options like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants inserted under the skin. This is unsurprising, given that past research has shown that long-lasting, reversible implants are the most effective (implants can last up to 10 years; IUDs up to 5).

But outside of this study environment, there’s another factor to consider: Implants are most expensive method of birth control. They can cost between $ 500 to $ 1,000 for the device and insertion.

The availability of birth control at no cost lowered both pregnancy rates in teenage girls and abortion rates among all participants. The birth rate of the study’s teenage participants was six births per 1,000 girls, compared with the national rate of 34 per 1,000 in 2010. There were six abortions a year for every 1,000 women in the project, compared with the national rate of almost 20 in 1,000.

Study author Dr. Jeffrey Peipert told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the project reveals the potential impact of full insurance coverage of contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the ACA, women with insurance will soon be able to get birth control without a copay or coinsurance (Learn more about women’s services covered by the ACA here.)

For information about birth control, check out our birth control info here. Not all forms of birth control will be covered under the ACA (like, say, brand-name methods that have generic alternatives), but it’s good to know your options, regardless.

photo: Photodisc/Thinkstock

More from WH:
Birth Control is an Economic Issue
The History of Contraception
Best Birth Control For You

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Birth Control is an Economic Issue

birth controlA new study from the Guttmacher Institute reveals what you no doubt already know: Women use birth control because it gives them more control over their lives. They reported that staying baby-free for as long as they choose gives them more freedom to achieve their goals, such as completing an education, getting or keeping a job, and supporting themselves financially, according to research set to be published in the journal Contraception.

That point about controlling their finances was major. Of the 2,094 women surveyed, the most common reason they cited for using birth control was a financial one. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents said they use BC because they can’t afford to have a baby.

“Women’s reasons for using contraception are in many ways reflections of their concern about the consequences an unintended pregnancy would have on their lives, especially during periods of economic stress,” says study co-author Jennifer Frost, Ph.D.

Not a surprise to us—when we asked our Twitter followers why they love birth control, money was something a number of them mentioned. Check out their messages in our Birth Control Rocks slideshow.

Even Bigger Financial Benefits
And here’s something else: Not does birth control help women keep their finances in check on a microeconomic, individual level, but research shows that it can also reduce the strain on government services like Medicaid.

Existing Guttmacher Institute data on publicly funded contraceptive services shows that every dollar invested in helping women avoid unintended pregnancies saved $ 3.74 in related Medicaid expenditures. To put it simply: A dollar spent on pregnancy prevention is $ 3.74 saved. This stat is even more eye-opening when you consider that one in five babies born in the United States are the result of unintended pregnancies (according to data published in Contraception in 2011).

How to Save Even More
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, women with health insurance can now get their birth control for free. We’re sure you already know this, but the Affordable Care Act allows insured women to receive preventative care services, including well-woman visits and contraception, without a co-payment, co-insurance, or a deductible. (Read more about which women’s health services are covered here.)

If you already have insurance, the changes will take effect once your plan is renewed for the new fiscal year. It could have happened when the provision of the ACA went into effect on August 1, or it can happen anytime before August 1, 2013, depending on the particulars of your plan. Call your insurance provider to find out the specifics or, if you’re insured through work, reach out to your human resources or benefits department. Note: If your insurance plan is through a religious institution, they are not required to provide these services without a co-pay and they have until August 1, 2013, to make their decision about whether they intend to opt out.

TELL US: Why do you use birth control? Leave a comment below.

Additional reporting by Vera Sizensky

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Are You Birth Control Rights Endangered?
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The Best Birth Control for You

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