New gel shows promise as male hormonal contraceptive

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On

A new gel being developed by a research team at the Harbor-UCLA Medcial Center in Los Angeles shows promise as a hormonal contraceptive for men that is completely reversible, reports Medical Xpress.

The gel, which combines the male hormone testosterone and a new synthetic progestin called Nestorone reduced sperm count to a level associated with a very low pregnancy rate in 89 per cent of men who applied it every day for six months, says the story.

"Testosterone and progestin work together to turn off production of reproductive hormones controlling the production of sperm," says the project's lead researcher Dr. Christina Wang.

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Ninety-nine men were given one of three unidentified gels — one that contained testosterone plus a placebo, or one that contained testosterone plus either eight or 12 milligrams of Nestorone. Fifty-six men completed the 20-week course of study and those using the gel containing Nestorone showed significantly lower sperm counts than those using the gel with testosterone and a placebo.

But not everyone is convinced this gel, should it be developed into a male contraceptive, would be trustworthy enough to be effective.

"As a female, I don't want him to have any sperm count," says Jane Skinner, a public health nurse in the sexual health program in Brandon Manitoba. "So I wouldn't be encouraging my partner to use that. I'd be saying, we need a condom."

Skinner says the only forms of male contraception currently available in Canada are condoms and vasectomies. She's heard rumours of a pill in the past, but it never came to fruition.

Also see: Births in Canada down for the first time in a decade

Even if this gel is effective, it won't solve several problems in the world of birth control and contraception, she says.

First of all, the study doesn't say anything about preventing sexually transmitted diseases. Second, in certain cultures where bearing many children is seen as a blessing, it's a challenge to get couples to use any form of birth control at all, much less one that reduces sperm count, says Skinner. And third, she's not convinced it will be appealing enough to men that it will encourage them to accept primary responsibility for the couple's birth control. Currently, the onus falls mostly to the female in the relationship.

"It's going to decrease the sperm and the men are going to ask, 'well, how long is that going to decrease my sperm count for? And when I decide to start having children, is it going to go back?' How do you reassure them about all of that stuff?" she asks.

She says a man's perceived masculinity can often be wrapped up in his virility and reducing his sperm count will not be appealing to a wide cross-section of men.

"With vasectomies, it's taken a lot of talk to try to persuade men that a vasectomy is a good choice," she points out. "The men are like, 'that's taking my masculinity away from me …'

Watch the video below about a recent controversial study regarding drinking and pregnancy.