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Male birth control applied as gel to shoulders works faster than other methods, trial shows

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A contraceptive gel that men rub on their shoulders to lower their sperm count is safe, effective and starts working more quickly than other similar methods, new research shows. 

The gel lowered men’s sperm count to the threshold deemed effective for contraception within eight weeks on average – faster than the nine to 15 weeks seen with male contraceptive injections.

This could make the birth control choice more attractive to men, according to researchers from the Contraceptive Development Programme at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The 222 men who took part in the trial rubbed 5ml – about a teaspoon – of the gel on each shoulder blade once a day.

The product combines two hormones, testosterone and a synthetic hormone called Nestorone.

While testosterone alone reduces sperm count, adding Nestorone speeds up the time it takes to work and means less testosterone can be given, keeping levels at a point where they do not affect sex drive or cause other side effects.

The product, which is still undergoing trials, is the most advanced among a crop of newly developed male birth control options.

Logan Whitehead, 24, was part of the trial and told Sky News’s US partner NBC News he would continue taking the contraceptive if it is approved for general use – especially having seen his partner struggle with the birth control options available to women.

“The gel was such an easy process,” he said. “It was basically like taking the pill for the day.”

Mr Whitehead said he didn’t notice side effects from the gel beyond some upper back acne and possibly a bit of weight gain, which could also have been linked to a new sedentary job.

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Researchers are now continuing to look at how well the gel works to prevent pregnancy, as well as its safety, acceptability and how long it takes to reverse after treatment stops.

But at the moment there is no money for the more in-depth stage three trials that are the next step to getting the drug authorised.

Read more:
Male pill is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy
British men first in the world to try new hormone-free male pill

Gynecologist Dr Brian Nguyen, one of the investigators on the gel trial, told NBC News they would need a major pharmaceutical company to fund it.

He said the challenge is that despite evidence that men want options, many couples still depend on female birth control.

“But that doesn’t mean they are satisfied with them and wouldn’t appreciate a male method,” he said.

“People always ask, ‘How long will it be until we see this product on the market?'” Dr Nguyen said.

“Most people will say five to 10 years, but I disagree.”

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