The first clinical trial of a male contraceptive gel is starting in the UK, and it could mean an alternative to the pill
- Couples in Edinburgh and Manchester are taking part in a clinical trial, testing out a new contraceptive gel for men.
- They have to use the gel as their main form of contraception for 12 months.
- A couple in their 20s who are involved in the trial spoke to the BBC about their experience so far.
- James Owers said he's been using the gel since February, and has experienced very few side effects so far - a bit of acne on his back and about 1kg of weight gain.
- It takes 12 weeks of using the gel for a man's sperm count to go all the way down, and another 12 weeks for it to go back up again, so it could be significantly even more reliable than the female contraceptive pill, which can be ineffective if you miss just one day.
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Since 2017, scientists have been discussing the possibility of a contraceptive gel for men, which reduces sperm count when absorbed through the skin. Men rub it into their chest and shoulders as an easy alternative to a contraceptive pill.
Now, a clinical trial has started in Edinburgh and Manchester in the UK involving 450 couples who are required to use the gel as their main form of contraception for 12 months.
The gel is made of a combination of synthetic versions of the sex hormones progesterone and testosterone. The progesterone stops sperm being produced in the testes, which lowers natural testosterone, so it's added to the gel as well.
James Owers and Diana Bardsley, a couple in their 20s who are involved in the trial, spoke to the BBC about their experience so far.
"I squeeze a 50p-piece-size out of the dispenser - the dispenser is a bit like one of those posh toothpaste tubes. It's got the consistency of hand sanitiser," said Owers.
"I rub it into my shoulder and pectoral area and that dries in three to four seconds. I do that to the other shoulder and then I get dressed and go about my day as normal."
He added he's been using it since February, and has experienced very few side effects so far - a bit of acne on his back and about 1kg of weight gain.
When speaking to Sky News, Owers said men traditionally can only choose between using condoms or having a vasectomy, which isn't ideal if you want kids in the future.
"The recorded failure rate of condoms is 17%," he said. "So I was quite keen from a selfish perspective, to get more options and to help develop those."
It takes 12 weeks of using the gel for a man's sperm count to go all the way down, and another 12 weeks for it to go back up again. If effective, it could be significantly even more reliable than the female contraceptive pill, which can be ineffective if you miss just one day.
"But if I was to miss taking this for an entire week, I would still be clinically infertile, so the risk here is quite different from the pill," Owers said.
As reported by INSIDER, the female contraceptive pill can have side effects like nausea, headaches, and breast tenderness, and inserting contraceptive implants can be painful. Also, some women cannot use hormonal birth control for health reasons.
Similarly, clinical trials of male birth control pills have also had problems with side effects, including liver damage.
Cheryl Fitzgerald, a consultant gynaecologist at Saint Mary's Hospital, and leader of the study, said she believed the contraceptive gel trial is an important step towards men controlling their fertility in a safe and simple way.
"I think women have got quite a few choices and I think men need to have a choice," she told Sky News.
"Also, there are lots of women who can't take different forms of contraception, so contraception becomes quite an issue, so I think anything that can be added into that must be good."
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