The NIH has plans to evaluate the effectiveness of male contraceptive skin gel that could prevent pregnancy.
The gel was developed by the Population Council and NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
The NIH will work with the council to conduct a study on 420 couples in a clinical trial.
“Many women cannot use hormonal contraception and male contraceptive methods are limited to vasectomy and condoms,” said study investigator Diana Blithe, Ph.D., chief of NICHD’s Contraceptive Development Program.
“A safe, highly effective and reversible method of male contraception would fill an important public health need.”
Gel applied to neck and shoulders absorbs through the skin
The gel, called NES/T Is a combination of testosterone and the progestin compound segesterone acetate (brand name Nestorone).
It is applied to the back and shoulders where it is absorbed into the body through the skin.
The progestin reduces sperm production to low or nonexistent levels by blocks natural testosterone production in the testes.
The addition of the testosterone helps the user maintain normal sex drive and other functions that require the hormone. The study will include 420 couples comprising of a heterosexual man and woman.
420 couples will rely solely on the gel for contraception
The male of the pair will use the NES/T gel daily for four to 12 weeks to determine whether the gel formulation is tolerable and that there are no unacceptable side effects.
If the patients' sperm levels have not dropped enough by this stage they will continue the gel treatment for up to 16 weeks.
Once the sperm levels are low enough the couple will enter the ‘efficacy phase’ in which the couple will only rely on the gel as a contraception for a year.
After those 52 weeks, the males will stop the treatment and remain under observation for another 6 months.
Women question the focus of research funding
While the research is a huge breakthrough, many observers are angry about the discrepancies between research into male and female contraceptive methods. In general, the burden of contraception comes down to women.
The common forms of birth control options are the pill, a vaginal ring, IUDs, an arm implant, injections, and more. Many of these options have long-term health risks, are painful, expensive and require constant monitoring.
Male birth control is going to be rubbing a gel on your shoulders?! Nah y’all can swallow a pill every single night, get injections & implants like the rest of us.— Erin Charles (@ercharles15) November 30, 2018
Responsibility for birth control must be shared
Many women are furious that this gel at this stage seems like an easy, safe and affordable way of preventing pregnancy that is only available for men.
Previous attempts at birth control for men have failed due to the methods causing liver damage and infertility.
People have taken to social media to question why this type of research gets prioritized funding over safer and more effective methods for women.
The study won’t wrap up until 2022 and even then the gel is unlikely to be hitting the pharmacy floor for a while.
But if it does hopefully it means the responsibility of birth control can be shared more evenly among couples.