New gel that’s rubbed into shoulders to lower sperm count could be first male birth control
A new gel that's rubbed into a man's shoulders could be the first form of male contraception available.
The gel, which contains a synthetic version of the female sex hormone progesterone and a dose of the male sex hormone testosterone, works by temporarily lowering a man's sperm count.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US are set to begin clinical trials of the gel, made under the brand name Nestorone, soon.
The hormones in the gel are absorbed into the man's system through the skin on his back and shoulders.
The progesterone reduces sperm production by blocking the natural levels of testosterone produced in the body.
Sperm count will reach extremely low or non-existent levels, according to a statement from NIH, but it isn't expected to affect a man's fertility in the long run.
The testosterone in the gel will prevent any nasty side effects from the natural levels of testosterone being reduced, like a lower sex drive, erectile dysfunction, decreased body hair and a higher pitched voice.
Lead author Diana Blithe, of the NIH Contraceptive Development Program, said: "Many women cannot use hormonal contraception and male contraceptive methods are limited to vasectomy and condoms.
"A safe, highly effective and reversible method of male contraception would fill an important public health need."
The NIH is set to begin a clinical trial involcing 400 couples to help test how safe and effective the contraceptive gel is.
They will also be looking at how convenient the product is and how much gel would need to be used.
As clinical trials haven't begun it's still a long time before we will see the product on the market, but experts aren't ruling it out.
"The potential of this new gel is huge," said Dr William Bremner of the University of Washington School of Medicine, who is helping test the gel, told NBC.
"There is a misconception that men are not interested in, or are even afraid of, tools to control their own fertility. We know that’s not the case."
Currently the only option for men when it comes to birth control is the condom, every other option has to be used by a woman.
Many men, and couples, don't like the feel of condoms so may opt for the "pulling out method" which is completely unreliable on it's own and doesn't protect against nasty sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The only method of contraception that protects against STIs is the condom.
Experts have also been looking into the possibility of a male contraceptive pill, but that could still be five years away.
In 2016, scientists at Wolverhampton University revealed they had discovered a way to stop sperm swimming.
Tiny compounds switched off the sperm's ability to wiggle, meaning it couldn't reach the female egg to fertilise it and cause pregnancy.
It was hoped live animal testing would be able to begin in just two to three years – and with new drugs typically able to reach the market in three to five years after animal tests, the male pill could be available as soon as 2021.
However, the final contraceptive may not be a pill at all – researchers said it was "too early" to tell if it will be available as a pill, nasal spray or even a sub-skin implant.
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