Ladies, the future is (almost) here: Male birth control is a thing.
There are currently several different methods of male birth control showing promise in trials: a once-daily pill called DMAU, a topical gel and a shot. All have been proven to suppress reproductive hormones in men — the same hormones responsible for sperm production. And in what can only be described as a turn of poetic justice for those of us who have taken the women’s version all these years, the side effects include loss of libido and weight gain.
Unfortunately, these male birth control methods are still a long way away from clinical trials by the FDA, years of which are required for all prescription drug approvals in the United States. But at HerMoney, we say it’s never too early to start planning for the future, so we decided to take an advanced look at what male birth control — whenever it arrives — may mean for the broader birth control market, your insurance plans and, naturally, your wallet.
How Long Will it Take for Male Birth Control to Hit the Market?
All methods being studied today are at least a decade away from the market, says Dawn Stacey, a licensed mental health counselor and birth control expert. “It’s not something that’s right around the corner, given how the FDA works and where most of these companies are with their research.”
Most male birth control methods work by shutting down sperm production by up to 90 percent, by blunting “serum testosterone hormone levels,” says Dr. Aviva Romm, a Yale-trained MD and midwife. In trials, some men had to take additional testosterone supplements in order to keep their moods and libido steady. Unfortunately, this alone will be enough to make some men wary of even considering male birth control.
In a study on the shot, 75 percent of men who participated said they would get it if they had access to it, but Stacey says she — and other experts in the field — aren’t so sure. “Companies developing the products are already worried that men won’t want to take it when it gets here. Men who complain about the simple act of putting on a condom are not going to want the burden of getting a shot in the testicles, or anything that would cause more work on their behalf.” (That’s right, the current shot being tested is injected there, but with 10 years to go before approval, that could change.)
Will There Be Any Change in How Insurance Covers Things, or the Cost for Female Contraception?
Before the Affordable Care Act, it was incredibly frustrating to see Viagra being covered, but not the pill, says Dr. Sophia Yen, Stanford professor, women’s health expert and CEO of Pandia Health. And we agree. “Somehow a 70-year-old man’s need for an erection was more important than the young woman who didn’t want to get pregnant.”
The ACA , which mandates that private health insurance plans cover prescription contraceptives when in-network — with no copay for the consumer — changed all that, saving women $1.4 billion on contraceptives in 2015 alone, according to a study by Penn Medicine. Today, all birth control should be covered with no cost to you, unless your employer has a moral or religious exemption or you are out of network.
“My sarcastic self says that insurance companies will absolutely cover male birth control, because it’s a man thing,” Yen says. “But financially, I can see them pushing away from it, because the manufacturers are going to charge as much as they can.”
The Cost Is Likely To Be High
To start, male birth control will likely be much more expensive than its female counterpart because it will still be under patent, while most female pills have been on the market for so long, there is almost always a generic version available at a lower cost. “At Walmart, birth control is down to $7 per pack, and I don’t see any way the male version would be that affordable at first,” says Yen.
Right now, the majority of insurance companies don’t cover vasectomies and they don’t cover condoms, so overall they tend to favor women’s methods over men’s. But that could change depending on what male birth control does to the landscape, Stacey says. “My guess is that insurance will eventually cover the male methods, but that coverage won’t impact the tried-and-true female methods.”
Overall, adding male birth control to the market can only be a good thing, Yen says. “We welcome this to the repertoire and hope that it will bring down costs [overall].”
Will Male Birth Control Really Be a Game-Changer?
Perhaps the better question here is: How many women are really going to trust men to take a pill (or a shot, or rub on a gel)? Yen asks. “I suspect that women will still want to be the ones in control because they’re the ones who are going to end up pregnant — and suffer the consequences — if that pill isn’t taken,” she says.
Also, men have been listening to women as we’ve complained about birth control’s side effects for the last 50 years, Romm says. “It’s going to be a tough pill for them to swallow. Pun intended. Taking a pill every day seems like a girly thing to do, and they’ve heard all the risks about hormones and blood clots. Just because it’s available doesn’t mean they’re going to rush to it.”
When male birth control first hits the market, it’s very likely to be marketed to married couples, Yen says. “Single women are going to be asking, ‘Do I trust this guy who says he’s on the pill?’ But married couples are usually on the same page. Perhaps after you’ve had your kids, you can consider male birth control rather than a vasectomy.”
For decades, the pill has been seen as a form of women’s liberation and empowerment, Stacey says, and it still is — regardless of what’s new on the market. “A woman could choose her birth control method and take control of her fertility and her future. It was revolutionary, and I’m not sure we’re going to be so quick to let go of those reins and hand them over to men,” she says.
P.S. In case you were wondering, male birth control will absolutely require a prescription — it won’t be over-the-counter.
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