Researchers launching male birth control study

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SEATTLE (CBS) Researchers around the country are enrolling couples in the first clinical trial testing the efficacy of male contraception.

Dr. Stephanie Page is a self-identifying feminist so on the surface it may seem odd that the University of Washington professor has spent the last 15 years developing a male contraceptive.

"I think that any contraceptive really empowers women in the end, because women need to have control of their own fertility and couples need to be able to determine when they want to have children," Page said.

Page says the bottom line is that's not happening now. Globally, 40 percent of pregnancies are unplanned. "That number has been really stagnant over the last 25 years and if we really want to make a dent in issues with regards to unplanned pregnancy and population growth, we think engaging the other fifty percent of the population is absolutely critical to solving the problem," Page said.

So Page has been testing a male birth control pill. Her research was featured on the CBS Evening News last spring. At the same time, she's also participating in an even larger, further along project -- a male birth control gel.

"The gel is a topical gel, it's actually similar to other testosterone products on the market in terms of formulation, but this particular gel contains both testosterone and a progestin, and we know from ourselves and work others have done that including that progestin component really makes it more effective in blocking the production of men," Page said.

Both the University of Washington and UCLA are recruiting as many as 400 couples willing to try. The gel is applied to the man's shoulder once a day for a year, then participants take part in an additional year of follow up.

Seattle and Los Angeles are two of the test sites, but there will also be participants in Kansas, Chile, Sweden, Scotland, Italy, England and Kenya.

The study is not without risk. "There is the possibility of pregnancy. We've done everything we can to minimize the possibility in this study but we talk to people about the risks involved and make sure that they understand pregnancy is a possibility," Page said.

But Page says there's an even greater possibility they will be a part of the groundbreaking development that evens the contraceptive playing field. "I think we are underestimating the interest of men in these things. To say men wouldn't do it is false," she said.

If the research is successful you still can't expect to see the product on the shelves of your pharmacy for at least a decade.