With condoms and vasectomies, men take responsibility for a third of contraception in the United States. But health officials would like to see that figure grow.
"Just imagine if they had another non-permanent option," said Elaine Lissner, director of the nonprofit Male Contraception Information Project.
Several promising possibilities — from a male pill to putting a cork in it — are on the horizon, based on presentations today at the second "Future of Male Contraception" conference, held in Seattle and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, World Health Organization and others.
- Sperm blocker: Researchers who have been developing the Intra Vas Device are expected to announce test results showing "substantial equivalence to traditional vasectomy methods" in a study of 90 men. The device — a set of removable plugs — blocks sperm in the vas deferens, the tube that's cut in a vasectomy. Further research is needed to find whether fertility returns after the plugs are removed.
- Testosterone-like pill: A drug called "selective androgen receptor modulator," or SARM, is being tested on humans as an osteoporosis and muscle-wasting treatment. It also shows promise as a male pill, researchers said. A similar drug taken orally reduces sperm counts in rabbits.
- Nonhormonal pill: Research shows a non-hormonal compound called CDB-4022 prevents monkey sperm from swimming to their destination. Upon stopping treatment, fertility returned completely in 16 weeks, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. But the safety of the drug still needs to be tested.
"You'll never have all men interested" in new contraceptive methods, Lissner said. "But attitudes have really changed — studies consistently show a majority of men would consider it."
A new survey by the International Male Contraception Coalition found 61 percent of men would pick a nonhormonal drug over other contraceptive choices.
"Some men are quite desperate for better control over their fertility," said Kirsten Thompson, director of the International Male Contraception Coalition. "They're looking for something they can really count on."