Council Commentary

Advancing Health Equity Through Contraception

We hear it in nearly every sexual and reproductive health conversation today—from HIV prevention to family planning to STI treatment, people want and deserve choice. Whether it’s a pill, ring, injectable, or newer delivery method, we know that a person’s ability to choose a method that works for them is crucial.  

We’ve seen this time and again in contraception. While the field has advanced tremendously over the decades with many new categories and methods being introduced for women, including Population Council-developed methods such as Norplant®, Jadelle®, Mirena®, the Copper T IUD, and most recently, Annovera®, the responsibility of family planning lies almost exclusively on women and girls. Men have limited contraceptive options other than vasectomy or condoms. How is this possible?  

While surveys indicate that a large proportion of men are willing to use a male contraceptive and share responsibility with their female partner, the development of male contraception has not gotten the attention nor industry interest it deserves.

The Population Council, a nonprofit research institution and product developer, works to ensure greater choice and access to sexual and reproductive health services and technologies. We develop products that we know, through our research, people want and need.

One product is a male contraceptive. We believe that with more male options, couples can discuss together which methods are right for them and share family planning decisions. Expanding contraceptive options for men will help us progress toward true gender equity.

The Council’s male contraceptive candidate product, NES/T—a topical gel the man applies on his shoulders—is currently in a Phase 2 clinical trial conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Contraceptive Clinical Trials Network. Results are expected in 2023, and the early indications are promising.

The majority of men are completing the trial, which is a strong indication that the method is well accepted. The couples who continue and complete the study show high satisfaction and some mild side effects are well-tolerated.

An article in the most recent issue of Cosmopolitan magazine shares anecdotes from some of the male participants in the trial. While precautions are needed—children and women should avoid contact with the unwashed or not covered (unclothed) areas where the gel has been applied to the skin—no one has been discontinued from the trial because of safety reasons and, thus far, we have seen no serious adverse events resulting from the use of the gel.   

For decades, the Population Council has been a leader in the development of male contraception, and we are a co-founder of the International Consortium for Male Contraception. Developing a product for men is challenging in different ways than developing contraceptives for women, because of the differences in male and female anatomy. Our hope is that this gel product will be the first of many options for men and will move the world one step closer to making family planning a shared responsibility. It's about time!