A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Male Birth Control: It’s a Thing


Men may soon have more birth control options.

For decades, men’s contraceptive options have been restricted to condoms and vasectomies while women’s options have diversified to include pills, patches, rings, injections, implants, intrauterine devices, vaginal gels, and more.

Brian T. Nguyen MD’10 intends to shift the balance by developing more male contraceptive options and, in doing so, promote men’s participation in preventing unplanned pregnancies, a burden nearly exclusively shouldered by women.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Nguyen started receiving more requests to join male contraceptive trials. “Some men wrote in and said they felt like the laws were also targeting them in ways that they had to take action to protect themselves and their female partners,” he says. Nguyen is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, where he is also the founder of the EMERGE Lab, a research group working to engage men in reproductive and gender equity.

He and his colleagues are working on a hormonal gel that is applied to a man’s shoulder daily to completely suppress sperm production while maintaining normal male hormone levels, as well several oral pills and injectables that work in a similar way. Whereas other researchers have focused on refining hormonal male contraceptive formulations, Nguyen believes that even the perfect male contraceptive won’t be used if society still sees contraception as a “women’s issue” and men are not educated and expected to share reproductive responsibility.

The hormonal gel team recently completed recruiting couples to participate in a multicenter clinical trial of its efficacy. Nguyen has tracked potential side effects and men’s reactions to them.

“Men tend to have some negative visceral reactions when we mention hormonal treatments,” he says. Side effects include acne and changes in weight and mood, which concern some people, he adds, “but what we’re seeing is quite comparable to other drugs on the market.”

Nguyen began exploring men’s attitudes about contraception at Brown, says Rebecca Allen, MD, MPH, the co-director of the Reproductive Health scholarly concentration, which Nguyen completed. “He presented two projects at the American Public Health Association annual meeting regarding male access to over-the-counter emergency contraceptives and published his findings in Women’s Health Issues,” she says.

That research revealed that male customers encountered barriers to the purchase of emergency contraception—including vendor concern that they would use it incorrectly or force a female partner to use it.

“We have made progress [against that bias]over the last decade, but even when I repeated the study in Los Angeles, we still found expressed concerns among pharmacy staff about the age of the female partner if dispensing to a male customer,” Nguyen says.

It will likely take up to a decade before male contraceptive methods developed by Nguyen and his colleagues will be available to patients. Vastly fewer resources and researchers are devoted to male contraception than to female contraception—and they face complicated challenges, like how long it can take for men’s sperm counts to adequately decrease (about six to eight weeks). Further, while trial participants have liked the drug,

Nguyen can’t confidently predict whether male contraception will create new contraceptive users and fill an unmet need, or if individuals will switch from their current methods.

For Nguyen, it is a two-part mission of both scientific advances and social issue discussion. “In the EMERGE Lab, all the research I do under that umbrella is about understanding ways men can contribute to women’s reproductive health, developing men’s ability to empathize and support women via improving men’s baseline understanding of women’s sexual and reproductive health,” he says. Allen says she’s heartened witnessing Nguyen pursue this path.

“He has carved out a niche for himself studying men and contraception and is a real leader in the field,” she says. Nguyen credits Allen, as well as Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Department Kate Guthrie, PhD, for supporting his interests and advocacy.

“The environment at Brown gave me the confidence to know that the work I would do would be important,” Nguyen says. “Had I not met peers and professors who held strong principles about equity, diversity, and the human experience, I would not have continued to build the body of work I have today and share it with the next generation of physicians and public health professionals.”


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