Male Birth Control Studies Are Now Underway, But Twitter Is Caught Up In This One Detail

by Julia Guerra

Attention, ladies: There's been a pretty big breakthrough in birth control, but the bad news is, the female anatomy isn’t exactly benefiting from the new development. Instead, a new form of male birth control is on the horizon, which, sure, that’s great and progressive and all, but the tweets about this new male birth control are throwing major shade at the brains behind the project, and honestly, the critiques are kind of spot-on, if you ask me. See, while women have the option to prevent pregnancy via things like hormonal medication, and by inserting preemptive devices into their uteruses and arms, researchers are in the trial stages of developing a gel-based birth control formula that a man can leisurely massage into his back and shoulders. How lovely for them.

On Nov. 28, 2018, a press release from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that the research nonprofit, the Population Council, has partnered with NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to test something called NES/T, aka a gel-formulated male birth control. Similar to many types of female birth control, NES/T is made up of hormones, but that’s pretty much where the parallels stop. Per the NIH's press release, the gel is essentially massaged into the skin, and it's made with a combination of the hormone progestin, to reduce sperm production, and the hormone testosterone, to help the dude maintain his sex drive. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, you did read that correctly.

But while I’m over here trying my very hardest not to sound bitter, Twitter users are sounding off about this new male birth control gel, and the comments are everything.

A total of 420 couples from seven countries, including the U.S., Chile, England, and Kenya, among others, will participate in the clinical trials of the NES/T male birth control, Gizmodo reports. Male volunteers will be told to apply the gel to their shoulders on a daily basis over the course of about 20 consecutive weeks. The second part of the experiment will begin once their sperm counts drop. From there, the NIH's press release explains, the couples will "rely on the male partner’s application of the gel as the sole method of contraception" for 52 weeks (aka about a year). All participants will stop using the gel after this time in order for researchers to track whether or not sperm counts are able to go up again.

So here’s what’s causing emotions to stir up across social media: Aside from the fact that this new birth control method seems much less invasive than its female counterpart, Christina Wang, researcher at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute and principal investigator of the male BC trial, told Gizmodo that if she and her team were to only include progestin, aka the hormone that reduces sperm count in men, in the gel's formula, it could lead to “unwanted side effects like acne, weight gain, and a lowered sex drive." So, in order to make sure these things don’t happen, Wang told the outlet, the researchers added testosterone to the gel to offset the potential side effects. And hey, that’s cool for men, but what about some of the miserable side effects of female birth control like nausea, lowered sex drive, heightened cancer risk, mood swings, migraines, etc.? Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's kind of looking like there are a lot more precautions being taken for male birth control than there are for women, hence the understandable uproar on social media.

Regardless, we’ll just have to wait and see if the NES/T gel is actually put on the market after these clinical trials. After all, we’re still waiting on a male birth control pill to become available, and while trials of the male birth control shot have appeared to be effective, as per research published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, negative side effects like depression and quickened heartbeat have cut further studies short. So, even though Wang told Gizmodo that the latest male birth control trials will wrap up by 2022, it could be a long time before you see any form of male contraception on the market.