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UW testing male birth control on group of Seattle-area couples

Short of using condoms, getting a vasectomy, or being socially awkward, there have been few contraceptive options for men trying to prevent pregnancy.

Whether or not men wanted one, UW School of Medicine researchers are testing a new gel that may give men another way to totally avoid having a baby. It doesn’t go anywhere near where one might initially think, and it doesn’t work by making you smell really bad. Instead, the gel is applied to the shoulder or upper arms, whichever strikes your fancy, and works by reducing the sperm count to the point that there won’t be enough left to cause any trouble.

To test the effectiveness, researchers are studying the gel with 50 couples in a three-year trial, which appears to assume that all 50 couples will stay together the entire time.

In any case, the male participants will be given a gel that contains progestin and testosterone. The progestin — a hormone used in female birth control — will reduce the sperm count, while the testosterone will counter the pesky effects of progestin. Most importantly and somewhat hard to believe, the gel does not reduce sexual drive or enjoyment.

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After eight to 16 weeks of applying the gel everyday, sperms counts are expected to drop to levels low enough to prevent pregnancy, whereupon the couples will get the thumbs-up to clear out their contraceptive drawer and use the gel as their only birth control for a year. If no announcements show up on Facebook, it’s working.

But like anything trying to stop millions of sperm from completing their task, it’s not 100 percent guaranteed. Researchers believe the gel will be more than 90 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. By contrast, condoms have a 13 percent failure rate. Condoms and the gel together would probably do the trick.

Now what you’ve been waiting for: the side effects. Researchers told The Seattle Times that earlier trials saw some men gain weight, though mostly in muscle. Then there’s the acne (itself a contraceptive), though it was limited to those who previously had a heavy bout of acne during puberty.

To that end, should a man decide to stop using the gel, sperm levels will return to normal after about three to four months. The gel is expected to be on the market within five to 10 years, so no need to change your weekend plans anytime soon.

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