The decades-long quest to develop a viable contraceptive option for men may have hit an important milestone this month, as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has announced that it will enroll about 400 couples in clinical trials of a contraceptive gel for men called NES/T. The gel, which has been in development for nine years, uses a combination of progestin and testosterone hormones to reduce sperm levels to the point of infertility while mitigating side effects such as weight gain and lowered libido.
The concept of a contraceptive gel might seem strange, but it actually works similarly to vaginal birth control rings for women.
According to the NICHD, the gel “is applied to the back and shoulders and absorbed through the skin. The progestin blocks natural testosterone production in the testes, reducing sperm production to low or nonexistent levels.”
The gel’s supplemental testosterone, meanwhile, combats the side effects of progestin without promoting sperm production. NES/T was developed as a gel because this hormonal compound lasts longer and works more effectively when it is absorbed through the skin rather than being taken orally.
“The potential of this new gel is huge,” said Dr. William Bremner of the University of Washington School of Medicine in an interview. “There is a misperception that men are not interested in, or are even afraid of, tools to control their own fertility. We k now that’s not the case.”
If the clinical trials of NES/T are successful, the contraceptive gel could not only give men their first hormonal birth control option, but also reduce the significant contraceptive burden that is currently placed on women.