Roundups Sexual Health

Sexual Health Round Up: Birth Control Gel for Men Lowers Sperm Count, Fear Prolongs Labor, and Adults Choose Food Over Sex

Martha Kempner

In this week's sexual health roundup: a new gel that combines testosterone with a synthetic version of progestin appears to lower sperm count with few side effects; a new study finds that women who are fearful of giving birth face longer labors and more medical interventions, and a survey finds many adults more willing to give up sex than their favorite foods for one year. 

Birth Control for Men: New Gel Lowers Sperm Count

The decades-long quest to find a male-method of birth control moved forward last week with the announcement that a new gel lowers sperm count in men with few side effects.  Researchers enrolled 99 men in a study funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. Two-thirds of the men received the new gel which was made up of testosterone and a synthetic progestin developed by the Population Council called Nestorone. The rest of the men received a gel made up of testosterone and a placebo. 

Testosterone can interrupt the hormonal feedback loop that signals sperm production and progestin, a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone, can amplify its effects.  Previous research has combined testosterone and progestin in various forms such as pills, shots, and implants but trials of these drugs showed side effects such as acne and high cholesterol.  

The researchers found that 88 percent to 89 percent of the men receiving the drug achieved a sperm concentration of less than 1 million sperm per milliliter, “a level that is compatible with very low pregnancy rates,” compared with only 23 percent of those receiving the placebo. A high percentage of men receiving the drug (between 78 and 69 percent, depending on the dose) had a complete absence of sperm, compared with 23 percent of those receiving placebo. Moreover, side effects were minimal. 

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These results are promising but a significant amount of additional research is needed before this gel comes to a pharmacy near you.

Fear of Childbirth May Prolong Labor

The day before I was set to be induced and give birth to my first child I was scared out of mind. My husband was sympathetic but I could tell he didn’t quite get it and I tried multiple times to explain that this was something I had been afraid of pretty much my entire life or at least since the very first time someone told me how it worked (I have to push that out of there?). Years of watching episodes of A Baby’s Story with all the screaming and panting and crying didn’t help. I tried to explain the same thing to my obstetrician when she commented on how high my blood pressure was —“No I don’t suddenly have pre-eclampsia, I’m just petrified.”

Turns out my fear could have made my labor longer and more difficult. A new study in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology surveyed 2,206 women who were pregnant with one child and had planned to have a vaginal birth when they were 32 weeks pregnant. About 8 percent of the women were classified as fearful based on their answers to certain questions. The study found that fearful women spent more time in labor than those who were not fearful (eight hours, on average, compared with 6 hours 28 minutes). Fearful women were also more likely to experience emergency C-sections (10.9 percent versus 6.8 percent) or the need for forceps or other instruments to assist in vaginal births (17 percent versus 10.6 percent).  Ultimately, “…25 percent of women who feared childbirth delivered vaginally without intervention, compared with 44 percent of those who were not afraid.”

One physiological explanation for this is that adrenaline which our bodies produce when we are afraid counteracts the effects of oxytocin which is produced during childbirth and helps speed up labor. Some childbirth experts point out that women’s fear may be exacerbated by the hospital setting which is often anything but peaceful and that the sensational stories we here about births-gone-bad are not helpful. They believe that hearing positive stories from other mothers and being coached by their doctor or midwife about what will happen can help. Childbirth proponents in the UK have started a national story project where women can share their positive birth stories in the hopes that these will ease the fears of other women. 

After my oldest daughter was born, I told friends and family that while it wasn’t my favorite way to spend a day it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Of course, my first thought when it was all over was “I’m gonna have to do that again?” and when that day was upon me four years later, I was pretty damn scared yet again. 

Given the Choice Between Sex or Food, Many Women Choose the Food

A new survey conducted by the Today Show and the dating site asked 4,000 single adults and 3,500 adults in committed relationships about sex and food. They found that if forced to choose between giving up sex or their favorite food for one year, 32 percent of singles and 28 percent of those in relationships would give up sex.  Many of the foods that people chose over sex were predictable including chocolate, steak, pizza, cookies, ice cream, chips, and lobster. Some were slightly less expected such as sushi, pancakes, Caprese salad, gummy candy, and fresh fruit. I can’t imagine a year without sushi or coffee ice cream, but… gummy bears?

Sex therapist and author of She Comes First, Ian Kerner explains: “People often say things like they’d pick money or sleep or food over sex. I think this shows that people take sex for granted, or that they’re not enjoying sex enough to really value it appropriately.” He suggests approaching it like you do your diet and adding more variety. 

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