It is almost unfair how biased the whole contraceptive department seems, considering the options for each of the sexes. While women have the pill, diaphragm, vaginal rings and even intra-uterine devices, for men there are just condoms or vasectomy.
But worry not; the first male contraceptive gel that one can just "rub on like a lotion" to reduce sperm count is all set to be tested on men. The gel which has been through more than just a decade of research is finally to be carried out for a trial in April.
The method involves rubbing the gel on the arms and shoulders every day and has already shown to be effective in an initial six-month study. Eighty-nine percent of these men also showed sperm count reduced to less than one million sperm per millilitre, comparable to 'very low pregnancy rates'.
For 78 per cent of men, there was complete absence of sperm production.
But the experiment involved two types of gels to be applied to different parts of the body, so now they are to be combined into one product. The trial on the single gel will run for about for years and will be the largest effort related to hormonal birth control, when it comes to men.
The gel's effectiveness is boosted when combined with a progestin called Nesterone. Prosgestin is primarily responsible for stopping enough production of testosterone that is required to produce normal levels of sperm. Additional benefits of Nesterone includes no side effects, like acne.
For this study, more than 400 couples from the US, UK, Italy, Sweden, Chile, and Kenya will participate. "It's not a lot of effort. It's just remembering to use it every day," Diana Blithe, program director for contraception development at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health, told MIT Technology Review.
Having the ability to suppress sperm production for 72 hours, even if men forget to apply the gel, "there is a bit of forgiveness," according to researchers.
Initially, men have to use the gel for at least four months, while their female counterparts take some form of contraception. Their sperm count will be monitored and once it's low enough, the women will be safe to go off their birth control.
The couples will then use the contraceptive gel as their only form of birth control for a year.
Another trial is currently on. To ensure any stray gel rubbing onto a partner doesn't cause any side-effects. However, even if the trial is successful, Blithe believes, it will be likely more than several years before the contraceptive gel is available to the public.