Men may soon be able to take birth control into their own hands. Many men dream of having more control over reproduction and not having to rely on the honesty and responsibility of women to prevent pregnancies. This has long been a dream of most women as well. In 2015 researchers will commence clinical human trials of Vasalgel, a non-hormonal male contraceptive.
Vasalgel is a one-time, multi-year form of birth control that is being developed by the Parsemus Foundation. A polymer gel is injected into the vas deferens, the tube that carries the sperm from the testes to the penis. The polymer blocks the vas deferens so sperm cannot get through. It has a few advantages over a vasectomy, or actually cutting the vas deferens. First, sterilization through Vasagel is likely reversible although researchers need more testing before they make guarantees. Second, some fluid can pass from the testes which avoids a buildup.
Vasagel should not affect men’s health in any way except to avoid causing pregnancy in their partners. Since it is non-hormonal it targets the vas deferens directly rather than having a systemic effect on the body. Men retain their natural levels of testosterone. Ejaculation is not impacted because most of the fluid is provided by the seminal vesicles and the prostrate gland. Vasagel would be injected “upriver” from these important glands.
The procedure does involve a needle, but Elaine Lissner of the Parsemus Foundation, says it is no worse than going to a dentist. Since Vasagel lasts up to ten years, discomfort of the treatment is minimal. The control it provides men over their own reproduction is vast.
A similar polymer contraceptive called Risgul has been being tested in India for 15 years. Risgul has made it to human testing but only local Indian men are eligible. Lissner says the Parsemus Fondation has focused on creating Vasagel to U.S. medical standards and is following appropriate testing schedules. It is impressive that the Parsemus Foundation has gotten as far as they have with Vasagel because the research is almost completely crowd-funded. The foundation is currently raising money for the clinical trials.
According to their website, the mission of the Parsemus Foundation is, “to advance innovative and neglected medical research.” Lissner says they feel that effective and practical male contraceptives fall under this purview. Much money has been spent to research female birth control, partly because it is a lucrative business. Women have to take a hormone pill every day or pay a small fortune for an IUD. Traditional birth control pills can have terrible side effects from irregular periods to drastic mood swings to risk of blood clots, strokes and heart attacks. On the other hand, IUDs can cause permanent sterility so are only recommended for women who already have children. Vasagel must be affordable for men while still sustaining its production. Lissner hopes the treatment can be provided for just a few hundred dollars, which compared to a daily pill, or even a three-month Depo-Provera shot, is a good deal.
Even more important than cost is the peace of mind Vasagel can bring to men who are not ready to be fathers. Birth control has always been the responsibility of women. Many feel that this is not fair to women who must visit the doctor and pay for the treatments and bear the burden of planning ahead, but it is also not fair to men who must trust that their partners are taking care of birth control or who see their partners suffering from the hormonal methods. Finally men can safeguard themselves and aid their wives and girlfriends. Unlike a vasectomy, it should be fairly easy to dissolve the polymer and allow the sperm to flow again. This means that when men are ready to start families they can reverse the procedure.
What ramification might male contraceptives have on the political issues of birth control? Companies like Hobby Lobby have fought for the right to refuse to contribute to women’s contraceptives but do cover vasectomies. Will these businesses have any issues with Vasagel or will they be revealed as truly mysogynistic? Will men using Vasagel be labeled with negative words because they desire sex without procreation?
Lissner says the foundation has 19,000 men on a waiting list for the clinical trials of Vasagel. Unfortunately, commercial production is still at least two years away. The Parsemus Foundation hopes to have Vasagel on the market by 2017. Doubtless some men will balk at the injection, but many more will likely seize the chance to have control over contraception. Men may finally take birth control into their own hands and most are more than ready to do so.
By: Rebecca Savastio