The Pill for Men

by Daniel Sokolowski

Experimental new male contraceptive pill shows 99 percent effectiveness in preventing pregnancy.

The combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP), more commonly known today as “the pill,” first hit shelves in the US in 1960, heralding a “free love” sexual revolution. The pill, a hormonal cocktail of estrogen and progestogen, enables women and wives everywhere to have sex with next-to-nil risk of pregnancy.

However, this treatment is not perfect. While the pill is 99.9 percent effective when taken correctly, it largely depends on the user taking a pill every 24 hours, at roughly the same time every day. Failing to maintain this daily dosage—missing a single day, or taking a pill 12 hours later than usual—results in significantly reduced pregnancy prevention. What’s more, there are the unpleasant side effects that come from “being on the pill,” which often include nausea, weight gain, acne, tender breasts, bleeding in-between periods, increased cholesterol, increased blood pressure, mood changes such as depression and changes in libido.

While there are alternative female contraception methods available (in the form of more long-term hormonal implants or injections) they often involve more invasive or painful medical procedures that some women don’t want to go through, and they all result in similar side effects.

Fortunately, we may be at the start of another sexual revolution. Researchers in Indonesia have discovered that the leaves of the Justicia gendarussa plant, a small green shrub native to Indonesia, China, and India, could potentially give men control over their fertility, thus preventing pregnancies.

Justicia gendarussa has been used by indigenous Indonesian tribes for centuries. The man would boil the plant into a tea and then drink it half an hour before sexual intercourse to remove the risk of unwanted pregnancy. Intrigued by this mysterious plant’s rumored contraceptive properties, Indonesian Professor Bamband Prajogo began investigating its properties in 1985. Thirty years of research later, he and his research group have isolated the plant’s active ingredient and synthesized its contraceptive properties into pill form, and are now perfecting the dosage to maximize the pill’s efficacy while minimizing side effects. The pill’s active ingredients work by weakening three key enzymes in sperm cells that normally allow them to travel to and fuse with a woman’s egg. This ensures that the two gametes never combine and that a zygote is never formed. No zygote, no pregnancy.

The current version of the pill showed great success in initial clinical trials. Their most recent and largest trial involved 350 couples: for 30 days, 186 of these couples took the new pill, while the 164 other couples took placebos. The researchers then compared the rates of pregnancy between the experimental and control groups. “The pill for men” proved to be just as effective as the “female pill” in preventing pregnancies after sex; Professor Prajogo labels the pill’s effectiveness at “around 99 percent.”  

Users of “the pill for men” do not need to follow a strict daily schedule for effective pregnancy prevention. The final version of the pill will be designed so that men only need to take it at least 1 hour before having sexual intercourse. Normal sperm cell activity is restored after about 30 days of not taking the pill. Best of all, this non-hormonal treatment results in fewer and less serious side effects—some weight gain, heightened libido, and slightly smaller testicles, all of which are restored to normal when the effects of the pill wear off, but that’s about it. In case a user ever wants to start a family, all he has to do is stop taking the pill.

It is important to note that, while this new miracle pill might provide a better alternative to birth control for couples everywhere, it alone won’t protect against other sexual dangers such as the transmission of STDs.

Regardless, this male birth control pill is sure to appeal to many people: women, because there’s less pressure on them to undergo hormonal changes to prevent pregnancy; men, because they have an effective and more convenient alternative to condoms and vasectomies; and society as a whole, because a significant number of unwanted pregnancies are sure to be prevented by this new method.

Demand for this drug is so high that Professor Prajogo and his Indonesian team of researchers have been approached by billion-dollar U.S. biotech firms (which he left unnamed), wanting to buy the rights to patent the pill’s chemical makeup.

However, despite its initial clinical success, the pill, like any new drug or treatment in the experimental phase, still needs to undergo further testing. The government of Indonesia insists that the “pill for men” needs to undergo larger-scale testing to prove its efficacy and safety. Once this further testing is complete, and it is shown to be safe and effective, the pill will be released to the Indonesian public in 2016.  Given the stricter drug-testing protocols of quality control groups like the FDA, it will likely be a few more years after that before the pill is available for purchase in the United States.