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Over 28 days, 83 men ages 18 to 50 swallowed more than 2,324 pills, some of which were placebos.

Image: Dan Page

On his way to class one day—beyond the gothic arches of Suzzallo Library, past Drumheller Fountain’s gushing waters, up to the fourth floor of the health sciences building—first-year University of Washington med student Daniel Dudley stopped to scan a bulletin board. One flyer read, he recalls, something along the lines of, “Looking for healthy male volunteers for male hormonal contraceptive pill study.” 

The pill in question was dimethandrolone undecanoate, which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but did roll down the gullet of Dudley—daily, for 28 days—and the other 82 men who participated in the study, which began in 2013. 

Five years later, in March 2018, a presentation by researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine in conjunction with the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute revealed this particular oral contraceptive as a big step forward. “There’s still a ton of work to do,” says Dr. Stephanie Page, the lead investigator on the study and a professor at UW. “But we are really encouraged by this.” Currently, between condoms and vasectomies, men personally take part in about 17 percent of contraception in the U.S. As for a safe and effective form of male hormonal birth control, says Dudley, “I think a lot of men would be open to it.”

For the study, Page and her colleagues monitored subjects on a twice-weekly basis and found, overall, dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU, was well tolerated. Which is to say: blood pressure, heart rate, kidney and liver function looked good. Libido? Pretty normal. Erectile dysfunction? Not here. 

“Nobody got sick,” says Page, “nobody had a big rash.” 

What many participants did have was a lot of peanut butter. Every morning for a month Dudley, like some of his fellow test pilots, woke up and dutifully took his dose of DMAU with a fatty breakfast—two spoonfuls of peanut butter on toast. It was as simple as taking a daily multivitamin. 

“The goal is to create a menu of reversible options,” Page says. “I think men are actually very interested in controlling their own fertility.” DMAU is several studies away from going to market, which may take anywhere between five and 10 years, says Page. Meanwhile she and her colleagues tackle alternative methods for men like gels and injections.

Dudley is graduating this month and is preparing for a residency in family care at Valley Medical Center. He expects his experience as a pioneer of male birth control will be useful. Peanut butter optional. 

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