First male contraceptive that rubs on to be tested on men

The first male contraceptive that you ‘rub on like a lotion’ to dramatically reduce sperm count is to be tested on men.

After more than a decade of research into the gel, government researchers in the US will carry out a trial in April.

The method, which involves rubbing the gel onto the arms and shoulders every day, has already been shown to be effective in an initial six-month study. 

The sperm count for 89 per cent of the men was reduced to less than one million sperm per millilitre, comparable to ‘very low pregnancy rates’.

There was a complete absence of sperm production for 78 per cent of men.

But this involved two types of gels that had to be applied to different parts of the body, so they are now being combined into one product.

The trial on this single gel will run for about four years and will be the largest effort to date to test a hormonal form of birth control for men.

Men’s only options currently for birth control are condoms or a vasectomy – but a gel could be available if it gets regulatory approval (stock image)

Men’s only options currently for birth control are condoms or a vasectomy.

A trial testing out a hormonal birth control injection for men was halted in 2012 over fears it may cause depression and suicidal thoughts. 

How does the gel work? 

The Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute mixed two synthetic hormones, progestin and testosterone. 

Just 23 per cent of men had a low sperm count when treated just with testosterone. But the team found it is effective as a contraception when combined with a progestin called Nesterone. 

Progestin stops the testes from making enough testosterone to produce normal levels of sperm. 

The researchers say synthetic testosterone is then needed to replace this loss and to counteract the hormone imbalances the progestin causes – but it does not make the body produce sperm. 

Similar formulas have been made before, but needed to be administered through pills, implants or injections, compared to the gel, which can be applied at home discreetly and without fuss. 

The additional benefits of Nesterone over similar chemicals is it does not cause side effects, such as acne.

How the trial will be carried out  


Women ‘shouldn’t rely’ on a smartphone app designed to track their menstrual cycles, fertility experts claim.

Natural Cycles, approved as a contraceptive in the EU, uses body temperature to warn women when they are most likely to become pregnant.

Studies have even found the app, which plots ovulation on a calendar, to be as effective in preventing pregnancies as the Pill. 

But it’s unreliable, says Dr Mary Jane Minkin, a professor of obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University.

She told LiveScience: ‘Don’t rely on something like this.’

While Dr Nathaniel DeNicola, a gynaecologist at The George Washington University, said its success rate seems strangely high.

She pointed out that other methods of contraception, such as condoms, the Pill and IUDs, have been thoroughly tried and tested.  

More than 400 couples from the US, UK, Italy, Sweden, Chile, and Kenya will participate in the study. 

The men will be instructed to rub about half a teaspoon of the gel on their upper arms and shoulders every day. The product dries within a minute. 

‘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.

The gel can suppress sperm levels for about 72 hours, so if men forget a dose, ‘there is a bit of forgiveness,’ says the researchers. 

Initially, men will use the gel for at least four months while their partners use some form of female contraception.

Their sperm levels will be monitored. Once the sperm count is low enough to effectively prevent pregnancy – considered to be less than one million per milliliter –the women will 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 underway to ensure any stray gel rubbing onto a partner doesn’t cause them any side-effects. 

Even if the trial is successful, Blithe says it will likely be several years before the gel would be available to the public.