Men can be trusted to take their equivalent of the Pill, a study has found.
A major hurdle in developing a daily contraceptive for men has been the nagging fear among many women that they may forget to take it.
But a ground-breaking British study has now seen the majority of male participants use a contraceptive gel for a full year.
After at least 12 months, the trial found approximately 90 per cent of men successfully remembered to rub the gel on their shoulder every day, to suppress their testosterone so that they produced little or no sperm.
None of the partners of the men who signed up have fallen pregnant, suggesting the contraceptive works well – although full published results are still around two years away.
Men can at last be trusted to take their equivalent of the Pill, say scientists. A major hurdle in developing a daily male contraceptive has been women’s fear that their partners will forget to take it. (File photo)
And men who came off the gel after completing the trial saw their sperm counts return to normal.
Professor Richard Anderson, who is leading the trial from the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, revealed the initial results from 35 men signed up since July 2019.
Eventually 450 men are hoped to be enrolled, also from countries including the US, Italy, Chile, Sweden and Kenya.
Professor Anderson said: ‘This is the first British study to test a do-it-yourself male contraceptive, rather than injecting men or administering gel in the lab.
‘You will always find people with the opinion that men can’t be trusted to take contraception every day.
‘But these results show men can be relied upon, and that is important because many couples want the opportunity to have more choices for their contraception.
‘It is not fair that the tedious chore of having to take a pill every day, for many years and decades, falls only on women, and that they have to face mood swings, side effects and swapping between pills on their own.’
However some experts are still unsure about men’s reliability, with Charles Kingsland, a consultant gynaecologist and clinical director at CARE Fertility, said: ‘If I were a woman, I would not necessarily trust a man to take his contraception.
Consultant gynaecologist Charles Kingsland of CARE Fertility said: ‘If I were a woman, I would not necessarily trust a man to take his contraception.’ (File image)
‘If he said he’d used his gel, I would have my doubts.
‘This is a well-known concern when it comes to a contraceptive for men.
‘Part of the reason women consistently take contraception is because if they get pregnant, they will be the one that has to give birth.
‘And there is an argument that males are less reliable because society expects women to behave more responsibly than it does men.
Remembering to use a male contraceptive is not difficult, according to James Owers.
He kept his contraceptive gel dispenser next to the toothpaste and applied it as part of his morning routine.
The 31-year-old, who used contraception for 16 months as part of a British trial led by the University of Edinburgh, says he would have no hesitation in taking it full-time.
The only changes he noticed were an increased sex drive, some extra sweating and mild acne on his back and three pounds of weight gain, which he quickly lost while still using the gel.
Since he stopped the contraceptive, his 29-year-old partner, Diana, had had to go back on the Pill and has suffered side effects as a result.
Mr Owers, a data scientist who lives in Edinburgh, said: ‘People often talk about men not being responsible enough to take a contraceptive, but using a gel is incredibly easy.
‘I would get into the shower in the morning and then apply the gel to my shoulder, which took about 15 seconds.
‘It required about as much effort as remembering to brush my teeth.’
The couple had long discussed the unfairness of men having no option for long-term contraception beyond a vasectomy or condoms.
So, after four years together, when the opportunity arose for him to use a contraceptive, Mr Owers said: ‘I had to put my money where my mouth was.
‘I have always thought it is unfair that women have to shoulder the burden of not having an ‘accident’ and getting pregnant, just because there are no other options.’
The data scientist used the gel from April 2019 to August 20, with monthly check-ups to monitor his sperm and carry out blood tests.
His sperm count, which fell to zero, returned to normal within six weeks of stopping the contraceptive.
He said: ‘If the side effects were too much to bear or it was damaging to our relationship, I would have stopped using the gel.
‘But the worst thing about it was having to record taking it each day, which you would not have to do when male contraceptives become widely available.
‘If that happens before we are ready to have children, we would probably take turns on using contraception, so we both share the responsibility.’
‘Not only that but men have more testosterone, which may encourage them to take more risks – including with an unwanted pregnancy.’
The UK arm of the male contraceptive trial is being conducted in Edinburgh and at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Manchester.
It has recruited men aged 18 to 50, who are in a stable relationship with women of childbearing age, between 18 and 34.
The couples have stopped all other forms of contraception, relying solely on the gel.
The contraceptive contains a mixture of synthetic testosterone and progestin – a synthetic hormone used in the Pill – to switch off men’s natural testosterone and prevent them making sperm.
Most men’s sperm counts go down to zero and stay that way while using it, which could provide 100 per cent protection against pregnancy – better than any existing form of contraception.
A gel works better than a male Pill because testosterone breaks down very rapidly when given in tablet form.
A study by Anglia Ruskin University in 2011, including 134 women, showed more than half believed a man would forget to take a male Pill.
Worries about men’s reliability may be a reason why contraception for men, first trialled in the 1970s, has taken so long to complete trials and be made available on the high street.
However the Edinburgh arm of the trial has concluded approximately nine out of 10 men have taken the gel every day as instructed.
This is based on men’s reports and monthly examinations which clearly show their sperm count has remained constantly low and hormones in their blood have kept at the same level.
The researchers have advised men to find a routine and rub on the gel at the same time every day so it becomes a habit.
Side effects have been relatively minor, and acne problems seen in previous trials have not appeared in men using the gel, although some have reported some mood swings similar to those women on the Pill have battled for years.
Another concern about male contraception is that men may have a lower tolerance for changing moods or bloating, compared to women.
But there have been a low number of male volunteers leaving the British trial, and this is usually due to life changes or relationships ending.
As efforts also continue to develop a male Pill, Professor Anderson is hopeful the male contraceptive being trialled could be successful enough to complete the journey onto the shelves of chemists for men to routinely use.
He said: ‘We keep getting closer, and men taking the gel as instructed is another step closer.
‘This is not just an experiment, it is about getting a male contraceptive through development, and it is time for the responsibility for contraception to be shared between men and women.’
Male fertility expert Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘In my experience I think most men who agree to take some kind of male contraceptive would be very compliant with it.
‘I’ve seen nothing in my conversations with men that would suggest anything different.
‘But I’ve been particularly impressed with the views of much younger men in the ‘milennial’ age group who generally take their social responsibility much more seriously in this regard.’