The days of pregnancy prevention falling primarily on women could be a thing of the past, if a study on male contraceptive gel proves successful. Right now, more than 400 men around the world are spreading the 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.
The gel was developed by groups looking to give men another way to prevent pregnancy, and expand couples’ options. “Many women cannot use hormonal contraception,” said the study’s investigator, Diana Blithe, Ph.D., emphasizing the need for a male-focused option that prevents pregnancy. Right now men’s only contraception choices are condoms and vasectomy. The groups behind the male contraceptive gel’s creation, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Population Council, hope that the gel will be a highly effective, safe, and reversible method of male contraception.
About the Male Contraceptive Gel
The men apply the gel to their shoulders and back each day, allowing it to be absorbed through the skin. Called NES/T, it includes the progestin compound segesterone acetate (under the brand name Nesterone), and testosterone. The progestin compound blocks the production of testosterone in the testes, which reduces the production of sperm to low or nonexistent levels. Since the gel includes replacement testosterone, a man’s sex drive and other bodily functions that depend on this hormone should not be impacted by the progestin.
Why a gel, instead of a male birth control pill? Nesterone will not absorb properly when taken orally, and testosterone only remains in the body for less than a day when taken in pill form. Both of these vital hormones work more effectively and last longer when they are dosed through the skin rather than as a pill.
Nesterone has a good record of safety and efficacy as birth control. It is already found in some female contraception, including the vaginal ring. This hormone can mimic pregnancy in the female body, which means the reproductive system will stop releasing eggs. When used in males, the hormone reduces sperm production.
Dr. William Bremner, a physician at the Endocrine and Diabetes Care Center at UWMC-Roosevelt who is involved in the research told NBC News that it’s a misperception that males are afraid of or not interested in taking control of their own fertility. Many men are highly interested in options to reduce their risk of impregnating their female partners, and want to have more control over when and how they become fathers.
Studying the Gel’s Effectiveness
The study on the male contraceptive gel “is the first time that men are using it as part of a couple to test for effectiveness,” Dr. Blithe clarified. The researchers will evaluate these factors to determine if there’s a chance that the gel will be made available to the wider population of men:
- Determining how effective the gel is at preventing pregnancy
- Determining whether men will use the product as directed
- Assessing how well men like the product
The quest to find a new male contraceptive isn’t just about offering couples more convenient choices. It’s a public health issue too. Worldwide, 85 million pregnancies (40 percent of all pregnancies) per year are unplanned, and those pregnancies are more likely to involve adverse health outcomes for both women and infants. This concerning statistic emphasizes the need for additional birth control options.
Although the study will further assess the effectiveness of the gel, Dr. Blithe stated that theoretically, men could fail to use the contraceptive gel for one day without consequences. However, if they skip the application process for 3-5 days or more, then its effectiveness will drop.
Does a male contraceptive gel sound like a great option to you? Unfortunately it’s way too soon to know if or when the gel might be available. In the mean time, learn more about birth control options that are easily accessible today, to determine which might be the right fit for you.
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