Chemistry and Physics

A possible future for male contraception

Charlotte, NC, USA --- Scientist Working on a Experiment in a Laboratory --- Image by © Thinkstock/Corbis

At the end of November of this year, clinical trials for the first male contraceptive gel began. This trials’ success could change the future of contraception for both men and women, perhaps being a preferable alternative to the hotly debated female contraceptive pill…

The trial will involve four hundred and twenty young and healthy couples, from across the globe. The first set of volunteers will come from places in North America, including California and Seattle.

“volunteers taking part in the study will apply the gel daily, to both their arms and shoulders”

Now for the science part. The gel includes the drug Nestorone, which is a combination of testosterone and progestin. The male volunteers taking part in the study will apply the gel daily, to both their arms and shoulders, for a period of twenty weeks. In this duration, they will rely on other contraceptives. Once their sperm counts have fallen so that they can be deemed infertile, the couple will use the gel exclusively as their only form of contraception for the following year. After this year, the couple will be asked to stop using the gel and researchers will measure whether the effects on the man’s sperm count are reversible.

Nestorone and other progestins are currently used in female contraceptives, including the vaginal ring and combined hormonal birth control pills. However, when the progestin hormone is used alone in men, it lowers their sperm count and makes their testosterone levels drop, which can result in side effects such as weight gain and acne. Hence, the mix with testosterone in the Nestorone drug used in the gel means these side effects should be removed, whilst sperm counts will still be lowered.

“This gel, if successful, could revolutionise contraception”

This is not the first attempt to create a form of male contraception. However, all attempts have failed so far. This includes one trial that had to be terminated as a result of its possible safety risks in 2016. This trial will be completed in 2022, but it will take more studies and thousands more male (and female partners) as willing volunteers before it will be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and be made readily available to the general public.

This gel, if successful, could revolutionise contraception, ensuring a reversible option (compared to the irreversible vasectomy) for men. Further, it would mean women will no longer be relied on exclusively to be diligent in taking contraceptive pills every day.

Charlotte Hegley

Sources used:

Featured image courtesy of on Flickr. No changes have were made to this image. Image license here.

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