Q & A Library
New Male Contraceptive?
I've heard that a new male contraceptive is in the works. Can you tell me what it is, how it will work, when it will be available and what took so long?
Answer (Published 9/24/2012)
Several methods of male contraception are currently under investigation. The one that has gotten the most attention lately uses hormonal gels that men rub into the skin on their shoulders daily. The gels contain testosterone and a synthetic hormone called Nestorone that is similar to progesterone. In a study at UCLA, 56 men tested this new method for 20 weeks. While using the combination of hormones, their sperm counts dropped dramatically – from about 15 million per cubic milliliter of ejaculate to 1 million or less, a level that is compatible with very low pregnancy rates. The researchers reported that most of the men made no detectable sperm during the study. Another group of men received a testosterone gel and a placebo. In this group, sperm counts dropped below one million in only 23 percent of the subjects. None of the men in the trial knew whether they were getting the hormonal combination or the testosterone plus placebo.
This approach to contraception works by shutting down processes in the brain that regulate sperm manufacture by the testes. The treatment is reversible; sperm counts returned to normal about 12 weeks after the men stopped using the hormonal gels. The only side effect was acne, which developed in about one-fifth of the participants. While this study is promising, larger trials of a single gel that combines both hormones will be needed before it can be submitted for FDA approval.
A number of other approaches are being tested. These include:
Despite this research, no male contraceptive is likely to become available any time soon. For now, men should use condoms, undergo vasectomy, or rely on women’s contraceptive use to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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