The first clinical trial of a male birth control gel was launched this week, according to reports. Researchers from Population Council and NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development are behind the development of this gel that will drastically reduce sperm count.

If proven safe and effective, the gel will finally expand the very short list of contraceptive options that can be utilized by men

“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,” study investigator Dr Diana Blithe, said in a statement from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is funding the trial.

How will it work?

The gel has been named NES/T. It is to be applied to the back and shoulders once daily. It contains a combination of a progestin compound and testosterone that is absorbed through the skin. The progestin reduces sperm production to low or nonexistent levels. On the other hand, the replacement testosterone will work to maintain normal sex drive and other functions that require the hormone.

Dr Christina Wang, another investigator involved in the study, said she and her colleagues have been working on the gel for nearly a decade now. The team has been testing it in small human studies since 2009, refining its balance of hormones for both safety and effectiveness. The research team has had over 200 men exposed to the medication, and they’ve never had any serious adverse events. However, she added, they will be monitoring the procedure very closely.

As per reports, even if the new gel is proven effective, there is still a long way for it to be made available at pharmacies. The current clinical trial won’t fully finish until 2022. If reports are to be believed, the investigators will need to conduct more studies with thousands of additional men. A lot of further experiments need to be done before the Food and Drug Administration gives its approval.

The gel, if and when it reaches the point of effectiveness, will help ease the contraception burden faced by many women of reproductive age

“The goal of the whole field of male contraceptive development is to try and create choices for men and for families. A lot of women can’t use contraceptives, and men want to share the burden of contraception,” the researchers told Business Insider earlier this year.

The news led to some strong reactions among women on social media

Although the gel is still required to be studied in large groups of men, several women expressed anger voicing that a gel applied to the skin seems far more convenient than some of the birth control options they haven been using for decades now. If we take the pill, for instance, this birth control medication leads to several side effects like nausea, headaches, and breast tenderness. The IUD, on the other hand, is an insertion procedure that can result in severe pain among many women.

It’s true that there are a plethora of birth control options now – the pill, a vaginal ring, IUDs, an arm implant, injections, and more. However, the burden of contraception falls largely on women. More of the male birth control techniques in place will only help relieve women to some point.

Featured image credit: Gizmodo

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