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If men want to use contraception then they currently have two options: they can either use a condom, or have a vasectomy. But that may be about to change.
Some new male contraception methods are in the process of being trialled and tested: the male contraceptive pill and the male contraceptive gel.
Whilst condoms are good at preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), they are less effective at preventing pregnancy. Condoms are 98 per cent effective, however people might not always use condoms in the right way, so in reality their success rate is only 85 per cent.
The new male contraceptive pill has the potential to be much more effective.
On Wednesday, the American Chemical Society (a non-profit scientific society) announced that one trial on a non-hormonal version of the male pill called YCT529 had a 99 per cent efficiency rate in preventing pregnancy in mice, and showed no adverse side effects.
In a video announcing the results of the trial, MD Abdullah Al Noman, researcher and graduate student at the University of Minnesota, explained how big a breakthrough this is. One of the obstacles they had been encountering previously was that hormonal versions of the male contraception were inducing symptoms such as depression, weight gain and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
He says that “since men do not have the trade up between the pregnancy and the side effects, they are less willing to take contraceptive pills with such side effects.”
Instead of targeting testosterone, like other male contraceptive pill trials have done, this one targets non-hormonal protein pathways.
The male pill would be a reversible form of contraception, so men could stop taking it, and become fertile again, if and when they wish to have children. This is the same contraceptive method that over 100 million women across the world take daily, using various forms of the female pill.
This is just one of many contraceptive options available to women, including the contraceptive patch, female condoms, the implant, injections, a coil and more.
As a result, it usually falls to women to use contraception. However, the introduction of new pregnancy prevention options for men may help to strike more of a balance.
Dr John Reynolds-Wright, a clinical research fellow at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health tells PRUDE: “Reversible hormonal contraception for men will allow them to take greater reproductive responsibility and engage them in conversations about reproductive health.”
He thinks the contraceptive pill could be well received by the public, after trials demonstrated a strong interest in alternatives to what is currently on offer.
He says: “While recruiting for the male contraceptive gel trial, we had more than a thousand expressions of interest from all kinds of men and women looking for a new form of contraception.”
Dr Reynolds-Wright also led a study at the University of Edinburgh on the contraceptive gel, called NES/T, which contains human-made forms of testosterone and progesterone. The gel is a hormonal method of contraception, stopping sperm production and lowering testosterone levels so as to prevent pregnancy.
The synthetic testosterone in the gel counteracts the lowering of testosterone so as to prevent any side effects.
It’s applied by rubbing one pump’s worth of the gel onto the chest and shoulders once a day after showering, and absorbs through the skin and into the bloodstream.
NES/T has been in its second phase of trials since 2018, and should complete this stage in 2023. One of the current challenges faced in trials is that it takes four hours to completely absorb, meaning it could come off the individual, or it could even rub off onto other people.
Overall, this could take another 10 years before it enters the market.
Lou Brack, head of nursing at Brook, a sexual health charity for young people tells PRUDE: “Providing people with an expanded range of contraception is something to be welcomed. All methods have benefits and side effects and it’s great to have more options for people to decide what contraception works best for them.”
She adds an important reminder that most contraception, except for condoms, prevent pregnancy but don’t prevent STIs, and that using a condom and testing regularly in addition to using contraception is the best way to avoid pregnancy and STIs.
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