This article suggests that the contraceptive pill was originally created for men, but men didn't like the side effects.

What is more of a secret, as Bethy Squires points out in her article for Broadly, is that hormonal contraception was originally tested on men.

In the 1950s, biologist Gregory Pincus, amongst others, undertook trials on women taking an experimental drug he thought could prevent pregnancies. Before this, however, he had looked at birth control for men. But as Holly Grigg-Spall [author of Sweetening the Pill] explains: “It was rejected for men due to the number of side effects”.

Is there any truth to this claim?

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    'hormonal contraception was tested on men' does not mean the same as 'the pill was created for men'.. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 21:11
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    Following through to the Broadly article, the actual claim is this: Incidentally, Pincus et al. had originally looked at hormonal birth control for men. "It was rejected for men due to the number of side effects," says Grigg-Spall, "including testicle shrinking." It was believed women would tolerate side effects better than men, who demanded a better quality of life. "It" here appears to refer to some unnamed experimental male hormone suppressant.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 21:15
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    @DJClayworth I think the question is salvageable, by rephrasing with the wording from the quoted passage: "Was hormonal contraception originally tested on men?"
    – IMSoP
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 21:21

1 Answer 1


According to On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives, 1950-1970:

Pincus, Rock, and their associates conducted the first set of tests using norethindrone and norethynodrel on fifty infertility patients at the Fertility and Endocrine Clinic and the Reproductive Study Center at the Free Hospital for Women, where Rock worked, in 1954 and 1955.

After that experiment, two more experiments were conducted, including one on 23 female medical students at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine and another on:

twelve psychotic women (and also sixteen psychotic men) to test the effects of norethynodrel and an estrogenprogesterone combination. The purpose of these trials was not to verify the contraceptive capcity

As explained in The Male Pill: A Biography of a Technology in the Making:

Pincus tested the same hormonal compound he used for his clinical trials with women (Enovid) on eight male mental patients and reported that it had a "definite sterilizing effect" (Vaughan 1972: 40). This was the first— and the last— time that Pincus included men in his trials. The men's mental disorders (they were classified as psychotics) made it difficult to collect semen to measure the effects of the hormonal compounds on sperm production (McLaughlin 1982: 120). Moreover, the men experienced side effects, such as shrunken testicles (Seaman and Seaman 1978: 84).

So it is true that Pincus forced men to undergo such experiment, shrinking their testicles, but is not true that he did this prior to testing on woman.

  • You might find information if you search for court mandated chemical castrations. There were quite a few of them done in the United States in the thirties and forties. They may have used the same or a similar chemical.
    – user11643
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 22:13
  • @fredsbend "The first use of chemical castration occurred in 1944, when diethylstilbestrol" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_castration However, that compound was also given to women first. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diethylstilbestrol This claim in the OP is really about what Gregory Pincus did though.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 2:22

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