Researchers inch closer toward male contraceptive gel — but will men use it?

You’d think male birth control would have progressed a bit farther by now. For decades, men have had to choose between abstinence, condoms or surgery—all options that seem either too little or too extreme.

However, a new alternative is undergoing clinical trials as we speak.

According to an NIH press release, the gel works by combining Nestorone and testosterone in a way that suppresses sperm production.

In fact, the formula should work so effectively that men’s counts will be at “low or nonexistent levels,” the statement said.

For the trial, both men and women will undergo screening. Then, men will need to rub the gel on their back and shoulders every day for up to 16 weeks.

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Once sperm counts have reached a certain threshold, the couple will have to rely totally on the gel for 52 weeks.

The trial might be a little like playing chicken with your own fertility. However, the gel could fill a gap that’s been lacking in the world for a while.

Currently, the NIH is looking for 420 people willing to participate in the study.

The gel was developed by the Population Council, which will work in collaboration with the NIH during testing.

So will the method work? Researchers are hopeful.

“A safe, highly effective and reversible method of male contraception would fill an important public health need,” study investigator Dr. Diana Blithe said in the NIH statement.

Interestingly, the Population Council has already tested a Nestorone and estradiol combination to suppress ovulation in women.

Research has proven its effectiveness so far. In fact, the gel has also shown to be well-tolerated in women, a huge plus to those who don’t like side effects of a birth control pill.

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The male version of this study is aiming for completion in September 2021. This leaves plenty of time to find out whether or not the method works.

Still, another question is at play here too: will men actually use it?

Dr. William Bremner from the University of Washington School of Medicine told NBC News he thinks they will. Bremner is currently involved in testing the new gel.

However, not that many men use the birth control method they do have: condoms. According to the 2017 National Health Statistics Report, only about 34 percent of men used condoms between 2011-2015.

Of those, not all the men used it every time. The study found only 24 percent had used it during every intimate session in the previous four weeks.

Of course, these facts won’t necessarily determine how popular a contraceptive gel could be. A gel does offer an easy, invisible way for men to control reproduction.

If it passes the test, this new method could give men—and women, for that matter—a freedom they’ve never had before. Science may have taken a while to get there. But better late than never, right?