240 men around the world are already testing the first male contraceptive gel: we tell you how it works
One of my favorite mythological animals is the male hormonal contraceptive without serious side effects. After decades of research, the different proposals have been found again and again with reality: human reproductive systems are (too) complex to play with without consequences.
In fact, we could remove the "masculine". Experts often say that under current safety standards, the female pill would never have been approved. Furthermore, already in the late 1950s, the enovid (The first 'pill') could only be released as a medicine against menstrual disorders. The FDA withheld approval until the house withdrew the low-dose pills that could be used as a contraceptive.
The thing is that, no matter how hard they put it on us, we always try again. This time in gel format.
The search for hormonal balance
Effectively. Last week a North American NIH-funded clinical trial was launched that will study 240 couples over two years to assess the effectiveness and safety of a new male contraceptive gel. The couples, young and healthy, come from seven countries of the world.
The medicine is based on old friends, progestins. A group of hormones that are already used in female contraceptives and that we have long known can reduce sperm load to levels indistinguishable from infertility.
The problem (the reason it's not being used) is that progestogens have another effect: They cause testosterone to collapse. Without testosterone, men often suffer from various health problems, tend to gain weight and, above all, often lose sexual desire. It is not the best plan for a contraceptive, you understand me.
So researchers have spent nearly a decade trying to balance the proportions of progestogens and testosterone to come up with a solution that lowers sperm but maintains testosterone levels. Until now it has been like finding the square of the circle, but it may not be anymore.
Will it measure up?
Backed by previous results, the 240 men in the study will have to apply the gel daily to their arms and shoulders for 20 weeks. This is the estimated time it will take to reduce the sperm load to a minimum. After that, they will spend a year without using another contraceptive method and six more months, without applying the drug, to verify that the sperm count rises again.
As the researchers at Gizmodo explained, during these years "they have never had a serious adverse event." If this point is confirmed, it would be a bombshell, yes; but a drug of this type requires much more than having no side effects in the medical sense of the expression.
For this reason, researchers are going to study couples as a whole and, above all, how the fact that the man has the contraceptive "control" affects the dynamics of the relationship. It would not be the first drug to fail for "extra-pharmacological" reasons.
If all goes well (and that is saying a lot) in the middle of the next decade we can find it in pharmacies around the world. We will see if they are able to square the circle of male contraception.