Reversible Contraceptive Gel For Men Drastically Lowers Sperm Count

By Chelsea Whyte on June 27, 2012 10:51 PM EDT

gel
A new male contraceptive comes in gel form and drastically reduces sperm count - but don't worry. The effect is reversible. (Photo: Creative Commons: Kasia/flickr)

The burden of birth control may no longer rest solely on women. A new hormonal gel applied like a lotion, which contains testosterone and a type of progestin called Nestorone, led to dramatic sperm conditions that make pregnancy a rare chance, report researchers from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.

Study leader Christine Wang reported at a Houston meeting of the Endocrine Society that 88% to 89% of the men receiving the drug combination achieved a sperm concentration of less than 1 million sperm per milliliter, "a level that is compatible with very low pregnancy rates," compared with only 23% of those receiving the placebo, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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Investigators randomly assigned 99 healthy men to use unidentified topical treatments, one of which contained only testosterone and a placebo gel, and another with the same amount of testosterone combined with Nestorone.

The male hormone testosterone can turn off the production of reproductive hormones controlling the production of sperm and progestin, a synthetic version of the human hormone progesterone, can intensify testosterone's effects.

After 20 weeks of treatment, complete absence of sperm occurred in significantly more men who received the progestin-testosterone combination than those who used the testosterone-only gel.

Breathe easy, though, guys. The effects are reversible; sperm production begins again as soon as the gel is no longer applied.

The promise of an easy-to-use male birth control method gives researchers hope that their testosterone-progestin gel might be more appealing than previously suggested methods.

"Men can use transdermal gels at home-unlike the usual injections and implants, which must be given in a health care provider's office," said Wang. Though, whether men would follow through with the regimen remains to be seen. In this study, only 56 percent of men stuck with the program for at least 20 weeks, according to Men's Fitness.

While it's simple enough to use, it's still not perfect. But Wang said with further study, this combination of hormones could be the key to the elusive male birth control.

"The combination of testosterone with Nestorone had few adverse effects," Wang said. "It warrants further study as a male contraceptive."

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