This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
It's early days, but a new medical breakthrough may hold the key to creating a male contraceptive pill, which for pharmaceutical companies has been a sexual health holy grail for decades.
Researchers at Wolverhampton University have developed a new compound that's able to deactivate the protein enabling sperm to swim. Needless to say, if a sperm cell can't swim, it can't fertilise an egg. Lasting only a few days, the compound renders men temporarily infertile.
Since the debut of the female contraceptive pill in the 1960s, developments of a male alternative have been somewhat stunted. Various attempts to develop hormonal pills and injections have been fruitless, but this new research offers a unique and previously untried approach—essentially attacking sperm cells with a peptide that disables the unique protein responsible for the tail "wiggle" that propels sperm towards the egg.
The best news is that, unlike the female hormonal contraceptive pill—which takes a week to kick in—the compound might take only hours or minutes to activate. The study's lead researcher Professor John Howl told the Daily Mail that lab tests had so far been extremely promising. "The results are startling—and almost instant," he said.
"When you take healthy sperm and add our compound, within a few minutes the sperm basically cannot move."
The team behind the study have secured funding to start live animal tests within the next two to three years. If those are successful, the peptide could hit the market in the form of a pill, or possibly a nasal spray.
A male contraceptive pill would revolutionise sexual health. Up until this point, men have relied on condoms or vasectomies to control their fertility. In Australia, birth control typically falls to women, with the female oral contraceptive pill being by far the most popular method of prevention. Almost half of Australian women are on the pill, according to research by Roy Morgan in 2015. According to the same research, women's use of IUDs and hormonal implants is also on the rise.
All three methods of female contraception come with potential complications and side effects, with the pill recently linked to increased incidences of depression, as well as a host of other horrible issues.
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