Medically reviewed by Dr. Nancy Shannon, MD, PhD on August 10, 2020
For decades, birth control has allowed women to take command of their sexual health and form the lifestyle that’s right for them — but what about men? Men looking to prevent unwanted pregnancies don’t have many options beyond condoms and vasectomies, but that picture might look different very soon.
New developments in hormonal therapy are once again raising the possibility of male birth control, so society may be close to having an effective option for men once and for all.
Is there birth control for men?
There is no commercially available hormonal birth control option for men, but scientists are hard at work trying to change that. Right now, more than 400 men around the world are spreading a contraceptive gel on their backs once a day as part of a National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trial to test whether it’s an effective and safe birth control method.
While there are several trials currently underway for other hormonal forms of male birth control, none have ever been approved for use by the FDA.
How does male birth control work?
The gel, known as NES/T, contains the progestin compound segesterone acetate (known by the brand name Nestorone) and testosterone. Nestorone blocks the production of testosterone in the testes, preventing the production of active sperm. Because the gel contains testosterone, men who use it won’t find that the Nestorone has any notable effects on them outside of fertility.
Nestorone and testosterone cannot be adequately absorbed when taken orally, so a topical gel is the best option for ensuring that both hormones are delivered to the body as effectively and unobtrusively as possible.
Nestorone is already used in one of the birth control options meant for women, the birth control ring called Annovera, where it helps mimic pregnancy in the female body in order to prevent the release of eggs. In men, Nestorone stops the production of sperm inside the testes— ensuring that it prevents unwanted pregnancies without producing any major side effects.
How effective is male birth control?
Unfortunately, the efficacy of NES/T gel will not be fully known until after the trial is completed. If the gel is at all similar to hormonal birth control options designed for women, such as combination pills, it is likely to be highly effective when used correctly.
Efficacy isn’t a simple thing to measure, though. Trials such as the one being conducted by the NIH test multiple factors in order to determine effectiveness, such as:
- How effective the gel is at preventing pregnancy
- How much sperm count is reduced in men using the gel
- Whether men use the product as directed
- Whether men like the product
If any of the results in these categories are less than desired, then the makers of NES/T will likely have to go back to the drawing board. Even if the gel receives favorable results from the study, men still need to use the product vigilantly in order to remain protected.
Dr. Diana Blithe, the study’s lead investigator, has said that if men forget to apply the gel for one day they will probably retain sufficiently low sperm counts, but not using it for 3-5 days or using it irregularly for extended periods of time could hinder its efficacy.
As with all forms of hormonal birth control, male birth control such as NES/T gel would not prevent the user from contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
How do I get male birth control?
Despite recent advances, men desperate for a hormonal option will likely be forced to wait a while longer. The trial, manufacturing, and distribution process can be a lengthy one, meaning even the best case scenarios won’t see NES/T at your local pharmacy for a year or more from now.
Condoms remain a popular and effective option for preventing unwanted pregnancies, but they are generally not as effective as hormonal options. Couples looking to minimize their chances should still rely on birth control for women, if it’s an option.
Our medical professionals here at Nurx can help set you up with the method of birth control that’s right for you. Check out some of our options and start the process of getting the prescription you need today.
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