Birth Control Developments

Birth Control Developments

The term “developments” here should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt. Whilst there have been, “developments” in some areas of birth control, generally, the research and advancement of new, more modern methods has slowed in the last few decades, particularly it seems, in the US. 

Fifty years or so ago, women were empowered by the oral contraceptive pill, giving them choice over motherhood and, many believe, the start of a new mindset for women around the world.

Slow Progress…

However, new innovations in contraception are not as forthcoming as women would like. A 2013 survey by the Center for Disease Control showed half of women had concerns about birth control side effects and a third of women had tried five or more different birth control methods, in an attempt to find one to suit.   

Since the 60’s and 70’s when “the pill” was introduced to the market, there has been the advancement of contraceptive implants and patches, injections and the vaginal ring, essentially doing the same job but without having to remember to take a pill every day. Also, the Sayana Press, a quarterly contraceptive in a needle form did make it to market in more recent years. 

Studies suggest though that women would in fact prefer a pericoital pill that does not have to be taken as part of a routine. A large proportion of women also desire a method that does not involve hormones at all – for which, there are few options.  

Research is Expensive Business 

One reason for the lack of research and development (R&D) is thought to be the fear of lawsuits. Another is that new drug research is highly expensive and without sufficient funding it is hard for pharmaceutical companies to make any new ground in a realistic space of time. 

The US government is, in fact, the largest financial contributor to contraceptive R&D, along with the work of philanthropists such as the Gates Foundation who plug significant investments into family planning.

In terms of funds available though, this has been steadily declining and although the annual investment in the “developed world” is around the $85 million per year mark, taking into account an inflation adjustment, this shows a decline of almost $40 million a year, since the 80’s.

Tacking the Risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Then there is also the issue around STI’sthe condom and other “barrier” methods such as the diaphragm and cervical cap are still the only ways to protect against the risk of STI’s, as well as unwanted pregnancy.

Birth Control for Men 

Where advancements in birth control methods seem to be most apparent are regarding birth control for men.

Whilst no major breakthroughs have made it to the US market yet there are some promising possibilities:

  • The Parsemus Foundation, San Francisco, has been developing a gel to block sperm, called Vasagel, a similar product is already on the market in India. 
  • The “Clean Sheets Pill”, is a hormone free pill, under development in London. It works by eliminating semen emission without affecting the pleasure of the male orgasm. This could also reduce the risk of STI’s that are spread through semen, such as HIV.
  • RISUG, which stands for “reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance” is a hopeful,
    reversible alternative to the current vasectomy, under testing.
  • Androgen, a male sex hormone suppresses the pituitary gland’s production of LH and FSH hormones, inhibiting the normal production of sperm. Tests are reporting 4 in 300 pregnancies occurred, that’s 1.3%.
  • GnRH, also suppresses male pituitary hormones to reduce sperm count.
  • JQ1, being tested in Boston, blocks the production of a specific protein in the testes and causes sperm to lower in count and performance. Currently tested positive to making mice infertile, with regular sperm count conditions returning promptly to normal after stopping the drug.
  • Testosterone and progestin (combo), being developed in Beijing, LA and Seattle, is proving interesting. Testosterone changes hormonal messaging and decreases sperm production. Combined with progestin also suppresses sperm concentration in over 90% of men. Tests are exploring the ultimate combination. RISUG

It seems men now want to be able to have a choice to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy too. 

It could be that male birth control options are available on the market sooner than new options for women. Estimates suggest five to seven years. Would women trust men with the responsibility though? And will the funding be available at the required level to continue developments?


3B Scientific Family Planning Educator


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