Will the male pill see the light of day? Every year, a new scientific article raises the question, without any hormonal contraception for men appearing on pharmacy shelves. According to an OpinionWay survey published in 2021, 37% of men between 18 and 30 years old would be ready to take a reimbursed male contraceptive pill, if one existed.
For men, the three most common methods of contraception are condoms, withdrawal, and vasectomy. Some still “experimental” thermal methods, such as “heated underwear”, are being developed, underlines Antoine Faix, urological surgeon and andrologist, but no large-scale male hormonal contraception.
Research that is slipping
However, research has been carried out for decades. In the 1990s, a method – validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) – consisting of “hormonal injections (of a testosterone derivative, Editor’s note) once a week” was notably developed, underlines Mireille Le Guen, demographer at the Catholic University of Louvain. This product has never received marketing authorization in France as a contraceptive, and its use therefore remains “very confidential”, continues the co-author of a study on men’s contraceptive practices..
Other tests have been carried out since. Among them, an approach developed by the French andrologist Jean-Claude Soufir in the early 2000s. “It consisted of combining taking progestin orally morning and evening, with a testosterone-based gel to apply to the skin. It worked very well, but the manufacture of this gel was interrupted by the laboratory and this method could no longer be used,” recalls Jeanne Perrin, professor of biology at Marseille University Hospital and head of the working group on contraception. male at the French-speaking Andrology Society.
Since then, research has stalled. A consequence of the “AIDS years”, according to the expert, which made the use of condoms essential and essential: “There has therefore been almost no investment by laboratories and medical research in hormonal contraception for men. » More broadly, the pharmaceutical industry is dragging its feet in launching new projects, for fear, according to Mireille Le Guen, that they will not bring them any profit.
An oral contraceptive that is unlikely to be possible
Added to these obstacles is the evolution of safety standards. Since the legalization of the female pill in 1967 in France, these have been higher. “Clinical studies on male hormonal contraceptives carried out today are more easily interrupted when adverse effects are observed,” explains Jeanne Perrin.
Furthermore, such a contraceptive can only be effective after three months after the first dose, “the time necessary to produce sperm,” continues the professor.
Faced with these difficulties, the prospect of a male pill recedes. Other avenues are being developed, notably the daily application of gels to the skin “based on progestin and testosterone”. “A study is underway,” confirms Jeanne Perrin. Among women, there is growing disaffection with the pill, whose effects on health are worrying. According to the latest figures from Public Health France, published in 2017, 45% of women used the pill as a means of contraception in 2010, compared to 36.5% in 2016.