When it comes to family planning, and, more specifically, preventing pregnancies, much of the responsibility rests on women. Whether it's the IUD, the shot, the patch or the pill, it's something for us to deal with and men to, well, not.
Despite all the jokes about how birth control would be sold in vending machines if men could take it, it has seemed like there's been a lack of momentum when it comes to developing hormonal contraceptives for men. But that's changing.
A birth control for men—a topical gel called NES/T—is entering phase two of clinical trials.
Real men in real relationships are going to be using the gel (which contains progestin and testosterone) to induce infertility by lowering sperm counts. The gel is applied to a man's arms and shoulders daily (which sounds a lot less invasive than some current birth control methods for women).
Christina Wang is a researcher at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute and principal investigator of the trial. Her team has been working on this stuff for almost 10 years, Gizmodo reports. "We've had over 200 men exposed to the medication, and we've never had any serious adverse events," she told Gizmodo. "But we will be monitoring everything very closely."
One of Wang's colleagues, Stephanie Page, an endocrinologist at the University of Washington, told Quartz she hopes to see more male birth control options follow the gel.
A common argument against male birth control is that men will never buy into the responsibility, but Page believes if men had more choices, they would. "If we want men to be engaged in contraception, we really need to have a menu of options for men like we do for women," Page said.
If there's one thing science has learned from female birth control, it's that not every method works for every individual. Some women can't take the pill, but do fine with the ring. Others may experience side-effects from the shot but can tolerate a hormonal IUD just fine.
It's nice that we have so many options—but it would be really nice if our partners had some, too.
Male birth control could be a game changer for women who simply can't tolerate any form of hormonal birth control, or who have medical issues that prevent them from taking it.
It could also be great for couples in the postpartum period—some mothers dealing with the hormonal fluctuations that happen during and after pregnancy aren't keen to introduce more hormones to the mix.
A birth control gel for men could be the answer couples who don't want to get pregnant again right away are looking for. And, unlike a vasectomy, it's reversible.
There are years and years of trials and further study ahead before NES/T might be stocked at a pharmacy near you, but it is promising in a way that previous attempts at male birth control haven't been.
Mama's got a lot on her plate. It would be great if dad could take the birth control off it.