PhD student enrolled in a trial of male contraceptive gel that is rubbed into the shoulders says it is an opportunity for men to take responsibility
- James Owers, a student in Edinburgh, is testing a hormonal contraceptive gel
- He said rubbing it into the chest, shoulders and arms was ‘very little effort’
- The gel works by sending signals to the brain to stop the function of the testicles
- It is reversible and, Mr Owers said, takes 12 weeks for sperm count to rise again
A man enrolled in a trial of what may become the first male hormonal contraceptive said it was an opportunity for men to start taking responsibility.
James Owers, a 29-year-old PhD student from Edinburgh, and his partner are one of 450 couples across the UK who will trial the gel.
It contains the hormones progesterone – which is in the female birth control pill – and testosterone.
Progesterone stops the testicles from producing sperm while the testosterone replenishes stores of the male sex hormone which fall as fertility is reduced.
Mr Owers said it takes just 30 seconds each day to put on and that he was keen to help develop more options for men.
James Owers (pictured), a 29-year-old PhD student in Edinburgh, said the trial of a male contraceptive gel was a good opportunity to add to a discussion around men’s responsibility towards contraception and added it’s ‘very little effort’ to use
The gel, called NES/T, is being trialled in Sweden, Kenya and Chile as well as in Manchester and Edinburgh, The Guardian reported.
It is a similar consistency to hand sanitiser gel and has to be rubbed into the shoulders, upper arms and chest every night.
Mr Owers told Sky News today it was ‘very little effort’ to put on and dries quickly without giving off a smell.
Couples taking part in the trial must take a leap of faith and avoid using any other form of contraception for a year.
Speaking about his decision to join, Mr Owers said: ‘I thought it was a pretty good opportunity to really make a difference into the discourse about responsibility in terms of contraception.
‘At the moment men only really have a vasectomy or the condom and, if you want to have kids in the future, vasectomy isn’t such a great idea and condoms are very, very ineffective. The recorded failure rate of condoms is 17 per cent.
‘So I was quite keen to, just from a selfish perspective, get more options and to help develop those.’
HOW DOES THE GEL WORK?
The contraceptive gel contains the hormones progesterone and testosterone.
The progesterone, trial researcher Dr Cheryl Fitzgerald told Sky News, essentially sends a signal to the brain’s pituitary gland to shut down the production of sperm in the testicles.
It takes between six and 12 weeks for the man’s sperm count to drop to make him clinically infertile, meaning he can’t get a woman pregnant.
But because the testicles also produce most of the body’s testosterone, a side effect of the gel is that the men’s level of their sex hormone also drops.
Low testosterone can cause weight gain, low sex drive, mood changes and erection problems.
To counteract this, the gel also contains testosterone which can be absorbed by the skin and boost the man’s levels back up to normal.
The researchers say a man’s fertility should return to normal within months after stopping using the gel.
The gel is going to be trialled on 450 couples for a year by researchers in Edinburgh and Manchester.
The progesterone in the gel effectively ‘switches off’ the pituaritary gland in the brain, one of its developers said, which stops the testicles from working.
While this means they stop producing sperm and makes men temporarily infertile, it also slashes how much testosterone is circulating round the body.
Potential side effects of low testosterone include weight gain, low sex drive, mood changes and erection problems – so the gel contains extra testosterone, too.
Mr Owers, who is trialling the gel with his partner, Diana Bardsley, 27, told The Guardian he had noticed some spots on his back, a slightly increased sex drive and a small amount of weight gain.
Currently, women who take the contraceptive pill may face nerve-wracking worry if they miss it for a day, but Mr Owers said this was less of an issue.
Asked if he thought he could manage to use it every day he said: ‘It’s a pretty low bar, to be honest. It’s not particularly difficult to do.
‘It takes six to 12 weeks to get your sperm count all the way down, and it takes six to 12 weeks for it to come back up again.
‘So it’s quite different to the Pill in as much as if you miss the Pill on one day, or you miss it by 12 hours or something like that, there is some non-zero chance you’ll ovulate.
‘Whereas if I was to miss taking this for an entire week I would still be clinically infertile. So the risk is quite different from the Pill.’
The gel was developed by researchers led by the University of Edinburgh and they say fertility should return to completely normal within six months of stopping.
Some 11,000 men have vasectomies on the NHS each year and more than three million women take the Pill.
But experts warned the gel should not replace condoms if people are having casual sex, because it would offer no protection against STIs.
One researcher involved in the trial, Dr Cheryl Fitzgerald, told Sky News couples could be reassured that men’s sperm counts would be closely monitored throughout the study to avoid any unwanted pregnancies.
Dr Fitzgerald added: ‘I’d agree with James, I think men need to have a choice. Women have got quite a few choices.’
Men aged between 18 and 50, who are in a stable relationship with a woman aged between 18 and 34 are invited to participate in the trial by calling 0161 276 3296 (Manchester) or 0131 242 2669 (Edinburgh).
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