Birth control for men

A woman holds a packet of contraceptive pills. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

SALT LAKE CITY (KTVX) — Scientists at the University of Utah Health may finally be able to offer women who suffer from common but often debilitating side effects of birth control a solution — with the help of their partners. 

The hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, has announced plans to test a new contraceptive gel for men.

Prior research on the topic led researchers to believe the hormonal gel decreases a man’s sperm count. In other words, the gel lessens the user’s chances of fathering a child without affecting his sex drive. 

“In our society, women have primarily been responsible for contraception because they, not necessarily men, have to live with the consequences,” says David Turok, M.D., M.P.H, one of the trial’s principal investigators and chief of the Division of Family Planning in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at U of U Health. “This is a fabulous opportunity for men to step up and take an active role in the development of new methods of contraception. By doing this, they can demonstrate to their partners that they’re invested in a better future for all of us.”

Today, heterosexual, sexually active men who wish to minimize both their and their partner’s risk of pregnancy have limited options. The new gel, developed by the Population Council and the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), could help solve this issue by expanding the options of contraception, Turok says. 

The gel is made up of two hormones — a synthetic progesterone called Nestorone and a replacement testosterone. The function of Nestorone is to block natural testosterone production in the testes and reduce sperm count, while the replacement testosterone helps to maintain sex drive and other natural functions dependent on the hormone.

The gel is applied to the man’s shoulders, and its effects are reversible over time. 

Scientists are inviting a total of 12 couples to participate in the two-year study, which is part of a nationwide, Phase 2 clinical trial supported by the National Institutes of Health. Although it’s not necessary for participants to be U of U Health patients, there are some requirements:  

  • All participants must be healthy and aged 18 to 50 (men) or 18 to 34 (women).
  • All participants must be sexually active in a stable, mutually monogamous relationship for at least the past year.
  • Participants must have no history of infertility issues. 
  • Women must have regular menstrual cycles between 21 and 35 days.

Throughout the study, researchers will be tracking the effectiveness of the gel, how diligent men are at applying the gel, as well as monitoring each man’s sperm count and testosterone levels while evaluating the gel’s acceptance as a contraceptive method.  

Upon starting the study, men will be asked to apply the gel once daily. Couples will be asked to use additional forms of contraception for the first four to six months of the study to allow time for the gel to take full effect. After scientists notice an adequate fall in sperm count, the couples will carry on for the next 12 months using the hormonal gel as their only form of birth control.

After a one-year period, the men will stop using the gel and the research team will continue tracking their sperm count for at least four months following the study or until it returns to a normal range. 

Couples who choose to participate in the full two-year study will have the opportunity to receive up to $3,490 in benefits. 

For more information on the study, click here, or to inquire about participating in the study, click here