Utah researchers are testing a birth control for men

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. David Turok, pictured in 2017, is one of the principal investigators in a University of Utah Health study testing contraceptive gel for men. “This is a fabulous opportunity for men to step up and take an active role in the development of new methods of contraception," he said.

University of Utah Health researchers want to relieve some of the burden that women face with birth control. They are working on a contraceptive gel for men, and they are looking for 12 couples to help with a study.

“In our society, women have primarily been responsible for contraception because they, not necessarily men, have to live with the consequences,” said Dr. David Turok, one of the trial’s lead investigators, in a news release. He also is the chief of the Division of Family Planning in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Health.

“This is a fabulous opportunity for men to step up and take an active role in the development of new methods of contraception,” he said. “By doing this, they can demonstrate to their partners that they’re invested in a better future for all of us.”

The gel, which is applied to men’s shoulders, decreases sperm production without decreasing sex drive, according to preliminary research. And the effects are reversible.

The gel contains two hormones, researchers say. One is a synthetic progesterone called Nestorone, which blocks natural testosterone production in the testes and reduces sperm production. The other, a replacement hormone, helps maintain sex drive and other natural functions.

Men currently do not have a lot of options for contraceptives, according to researchers. They can use a condom, withdrawal, undergo a vasectomy or abstain from sex. The gel adds another option, Turok said.

A common question, Turok told The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview, is what kind of side effects the gel could have. That’s what Turok and other researchers hope to find out with this study. But early findings have not shown anything “clinically significant,” he said. For instance, they have noticed in the lab a decrease in HDL, or “good,” cholesterol.

“No medication has no side effects,” Turok said. But looking at the side effects that women experience while using hormonal contraception, it’s clear “we need to find better methods,” he said.

During the study, men will be asked to apply the gel once a day. Because it can take four to six months to fully take effect, couples will be required to use other forms of contraception at the beginning of the study.

Once the man’s sperm count falls enough to prevent pregnancy, the couples will use the gel as their only form of birth control for a year. Researchers will monitor each man’s sperm count and testosterone levels throughout the study.

After a year, the men will stop using the gel, and researchers will watch for at least four months until their sperm count returns to a normal range.

Couples do not need to be University of Utah Health patients to participate in the study, but they do have to:

  • Be healthy and between the ages of 18 to 50 for men, and 18 to 34 for women.

  • Be sexually active and in a stable, mutually monogamous relationship for at least one year.

  • Have no fertility issues.

  • Women must have regular menstrual cycles of between 21 and 35 days.

People who participate in the full two-year study may be paid up to $3,490, according to the release. To learn how to enroll, visit the study’s web page or call Jasmin Alcantara, the study coordinator, at 801-923-6705.

The study is part of a nationwide Phase 2 clinical trial supported by the National Institutes of Health. Utah is one of many sites involved, according to Turok.

University of Utah Health has previously participated in other studies with the NIH’s Contraceptive Clinical Trials Network, studying contraceptive methods for women, such as vaginal rings and smaller IUDs, according to Turok. But this is the first time it has worked on a male contraceptive with the network, he said.

The gel was developed by the Population Council and the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the release said.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.