A Topical Male Birth Control Gel Is Going Into Clinical Trials, & It's About Time

Ad failed to load

Like many other humans with uteruses and ovaries, I've relied on various contraceptive options to remain kid-free over the years, and it's meant that I was also able to wait to have kids until I actually felt ready. But the side effects of hormonal birth control hit me pretty hard, and when my partner got a vasectomy after our twins were born, it was a huge relief. Unfortunately, there aren't many good options available for those not quite ready to make such a permanent step, but next spring, a topical male birth control gel is going into clinical trials after several years in development, and it could be a total game-changer.

According to Science Alert, researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development are planning to begin clinical trials for the gel — which contains synthetic versions of progesterone and testosterone — in April 2018. And it sounds like there's good reason to be hopeful about the outcome: the gel that's about to be tested started out as two separate gels that have since been combined, and in previous clinical trials in 2012, the gels used were shown to be very successful at lowering the number of sperm in semen for a few days at a time when used together.

Ad failed to load

Researchers are expecting the combined gel to be just as effective, and if it is, it will mean that it will be that much more convenient for men to actually use. What's more though is that it actually does sound convenient: each day, about half a teaspoon of the gel (which is said to be "quick-drying") needs to be applied to the skin, ideally away from the genital area (the upper arm would do nicely).

In other words, it's pretty much comparable to taking a birth control pill each day — something women have been doing for generations. And as reproductive health scientist Régine Sitruk-Ware explained to the MIT Technology Review, the fact that the gel actually lowers sperm levels for about 72 hours means that "there is a bit of forgiveness" if a dose is occasionally forgotten (though, as with any birth control method, its effectiveness ultimately depends on proper use).

Ad failed to load

Unfortunately, even if the gel turns out to be an overwhelming success, it will likely still be a long while before it's actually available for purchase. According to the MIT Technology Review, once the trial begins in April, it will run for about four years, and will involve more than 400 couples in six different countries (the United States, the U.K., Italy, Sweden, Chile, and Kenya). If all goes well, that will hopefully mean men will have a simple, reliable birth control option available to them, though National Institute of Child Health and Human Development contraception development program director Diana Blithe noted that, even then, it will still take "several years" before you can pick it up in your local drugstore.

Despite the wait, it seems way past time that contraception progresses beyond being viewed mainly as the responsibility of the person who can actually get physically pregnant. Not only is it an unfair burden — especially if you can't tolerate hormonal birth control — but it also reinforces the idea that men don't have to care as much about preventing unwanted pregnancies. Not only should that decision absolutely be shared between couples, all individuals should have the ability to take ownership of their fertility and reproductive choices, and men should have more options available to let them do that beyond condoms and sterilization.

Ad failed to load

But as much as the development of new male birth control options would be be a benefit to, well, pretty much everyone, it might take a little bit of convincing to make male birth control mainstream. According to CNN, a Nov. 2016 study found that a male birth control shot, administered every eight weeks, was both effective at preventing pregnancy, and safe. Yet the study was ultimately cut short due to the side effects reported by participants, like changes in libido, acne, mood swings, and depression — aka, many of the same side effects women taking hormonal birth control have been experiencing for years — making it a pretty hard sell.

But that doesn't mean the gel is doomed to fail: Florida-based urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt told Healthline that "there definitely is an interest" in better birth control options among the male patients he sees given that the options they do have are limited. And while older men might be more likely to be put off by the idea of taking birth control themselves, Brahmbhatt says that millennial men seem much more open to it, which is definitely encouraging.

Ad failed to load

It's still frustrating though that it is nearly 2018 and yet, birth control is still viewed largely as a woman's issue — and that it won't be changing any time soon. Given that my baby-making years are behind me, my husband and I have at least been able to take advantage of the permanent options open to us, and that's been so helpful. I'd like to think though that by the time my son and daughter are grown, contraception could actually be seen as an equal responsibility of both genders, and that they'll both have plenty of effective options to use as a result).

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Ad failed to load

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

15 Baby Names With Unique Nicknames, So Your Family Has Options

I love a good diminutive name, also known as a nickname. I believe I’m partial to them because of my own name, Abigale, but I go by Abi. And since they’re both uniquely spelled, everyone thinks my name is pronounced Ah-bee for some reason — but even …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

The Entire Family Can Enjoy These Movies & Shows Coming To Netflix In June

It's just one of those sad facts of life: every month, shows and movies vanish from Netflix, their varied excitements no longer at your fingertips. But luckily the streaming service is always prepared to fill that content void with lots of new things…
By Megan Walsh

The Reason Why Babies Smile At You Will Seriously Make You Smile

Whether you're currently the recipient of your own baby's sweet smiles or you just seem to be a magnet for baby grins in general, you might find yourself wondering why babies are always smiling at you. Sure, you could be a 'smile whisperer' but scien…
By Kate Miller

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills