“I’m on pills” will no longer be an utterance only heard from women — the cherry on top of this monumental male oral contraceptive milestone that YCT-629 is it comes without causing hormonal wreckage — something the standard female birth control pill, which has long stood as a symbol of sexual liberation for the past 60 years or so, is guilty of unleashing.
YCT-529 — a revolutionary male oral contraceptive currently undergoing its first clinical trial in the UK, promises to make this happen. Developed by Gunda Georg, professor and head of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Minnesota, the YCT-529 strives to turn pregnancy prevention into a shared responsibility.
A manifestation of two decades of research and testing, this male birth control pill has demonstrated 99% effectiveness, 100% reversibility, and zero side effects when tested on male mice and monkeys during pre-clinical trials — the male mice ingested with YCT-529 had their fertility rate bouncing back to normal and were able to impregnate female mice post 4–6-week time frame upon getting off the pill, while there was a reduction in the sperm count of monkeys during two weeks of dosing.
Spelling innovation in a product category marred with a calamity of side effects associated with hormonal imbalances — the YCT-529 is a male birth control pill that works by deactivating sperm production in the testes by depriving it of vitamin A — without posing hindrance in testosterone production.
It is the flagship of YourChoice Therapeutics, a biotechnological company committed to developing safe and sustainable birth control products in the form of hormone-free oral contraceptives — which is also conducting its clinical trial.
The YCT-529 will undergo a series of clinical trials before reportedly hitting the shelves in June 2024 — the ongoing first phase investigating aspects like safety and tolerability in 16 volunteer male subjects at a clinic in Nottingham.
The birth control pill has historically been stipulated as a woman’s private duty since it became available via NHS (National Health Service) in 1961 — the side effects of it trivialized within the broader canvas of planned parenting that it lived and breathed in diverse, overpowering hues and shades. The repercussions of this penetrate the systemic notions of the male-female sexual dynamics — the laidback man trope exercising carefree sexual passion, with popping the pill, tracking the cycle, and enduring the physical and psychological repercussions of it being the silent burden of a woman.
The subtle feminine implications that pregnancy prevention or specifically pill-taking in this context carries calls for a dissection of the rudimentary gender norms that lie at the heart of it — nurturance, creation, childrearing, and caring serving as an evolutionary female role while going out in the woods to gather resources and provide shelter and security to the mate and offsprings an evolutionary male role.
Fast forward thousands of years — enter “The Pill” — standing as a modern-day extension of these very same evolutionarily encoded female predispositions (with the gendered evolutionary mechanism in question making child support a stereotypical masculine responsibility from a legal and socio-cultural standpoint for their male counterparts). The YCT-529 offers a welcome relief from this archaic construct — ushering in equilibrium within the scales of accountability in family planning and pregnancy prevention that weighed relatively heavier on a woman all along.
While this hormone-free oral contraceptive is a groundbreaking move towards safety in birth control, there were a few notable male contraceptive candidates in the past that saw rejection due to the side effects they brought about associated with a drop in testosterone production – like the one commissioned by WHO which came to a halt in 2016. It is worthwhile to note that the side effects subjects of this WHO-commissioned male birth control study experienced in the form of loss of libido, depression, anxiety, irritability, and mood irregularities bear a striking similarity to the side effects associated with the standard female birth pill that continues to be readily available as an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine.
Yes, the oral contraceptive was nothing short of a “magic pill” in the 1960s’ second-wave feminist movement — bolstering reproductive autonomy in women by eradicating clashes between motherhood and vocation-related decisions, enabling a steady stream of female entrants into the workforce. But the hefty costs of degradation in reproductive, physical, and psychological health became muted, sidelined casualties in this raging wave of empowerment and sexual freedom that gushed into the societal landscape of the Swinging Sixties with the invention of the female birth control pill — not having faded as a redundant bygone woe even today.
It is no alarming fact that consumption of female birth control pills that are quintessentially progesterone-based goes beyond snowballing into long-standing chronic repercussions like a 20 to 30 percent higher risk of breast cancer, according to a research study published by Oxford Population Health’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit in PLOS medicine. Against the backdrop of the pill becoming an all-pervasive method of prescribed birth control, with about 25% of women aged 15 to 44 adopting it, the consequences of it slip into aspects of everyday living too, the most widely reported side effects of it being irregular bleeding, weight gain, PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease), heavy bleeding, clots, and seizures.
Contemporary women are waking up to the gory realities of the birth pill on their bodies, accentuated by the growing dawn of egalitarianism in relationships, sex, and marriage. While striking a gendered balance in matters related to conception and birth control is the desired ideal, men have irreversible, ineffective, and limited options at their disposal, which invariably makes them rely on their female sexual partner for contraception.
It is safe to say that the YCT-529 oral contraceptive kills two birds with one stone — ushering in a novel form of oral birth control that does not take a toll on the reproductive and hormonal health of either the male or the female sexual partner and departing from the decades-old approach of women having to bear the brunt of birth control and pregnancy prevention-related liabilities.
Will the first ever hormone-free male birth control pill maneuver this paradigm shift it represents into actionable adoption when it is out in June 2024? Only time will tell.
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