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Packet of Birth Control Pills

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Could it be? A new clinical trial for a male contraceptive is under way right now. It’s a topical gel that men would simply rub on for it to work.

The gel itself is a combination of the brand name drug Nestorone, which is a progestin hormone, and testosterone. While still relying on other contraceptives, male volunteers will apply the NES/T gel daily (to their arms and shoulders) for about 20 weeks. Once their sperm counts have plummeted to a point identified as infertility, they and their female partners will then be asked to only use the gel for pregnancy prevention for the next year. After one year, they’ll stop taking the gel and be tracked for another six months to ensure that the effects on sperm count are reversible.

The basic premise of the gel is simple, according to Christina Wang, a researcher at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute and principal investigator of the trial. Nestorone and other progestins are already regularly used in many female contraceptives, including the vaginal ring. But when progestin is used alone in men, it both lowers their sperm count and causes testosterone levels to drop, which can lead to unwanted side effects like acne, weight gain, and a lowered sex drive. So the addition of testosterone is meant to counteract these effects while still leaving sperm counts incredibly low.

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