Men may soon have access to a new convenient option for male birth control. Scientists at the California National Primate Research Center have been running extensive tests on a product called Vasalgel.
Designed to be safe, less invasive, and reversible, a small amount of the gel is injected into the vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm from source to destination, and acts as a long lasting barrier.
The procedure is quick, and carries very low risk of infection, being but a needle prick. Catharine VandeVoort, a researcher at the Center in California states: “Men’s options for contraception have not changed much in decades. There’s vasectomy, which is poorly reversible, and condoms. If they knew they could get a reliable contraceptive, that could also be reversed, I think it would be appealing.”
Indeed, while condoms have been around for years and are functional in preventing an unwanted pregnancy and protecting against STIs, they are not as effective as hormonal options.
In the 1970s when the Pill was introduced, the dose women received was over twice what it is today. Carrying with it risks of depression, acne, even stroke and heart attack, the responsibility of highly effective contraception has largely been placed upon women’s shoulders.
But this new approach may potentially give men a fresh approach to reliable, safe contraception.
Tests have been promising and the center, with support from the Parasemus foundation, hopes to go into human trials soon.
VandeVoort continues: “One of the great things about the monkey model is that the male reproductive tract is very similar to humans […] Chances are it’s going to be effective in humans.”
And in fact, Vasalgel is just the latest in a developing line of injectable contraceptives for men. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced last year that a hormonal male injective was as effective as the female pill version.
However, scientists are still struggling to combat unwanted side effects such as acne and depression. Unlike the extremes of a vasectomy (which involves cutting and cauterising the vas deferens, and is often irreversible) or the side effects accompanying hormonal birth control, Vasalgel is simply a physical, removable barrier that prevents sperm from reaching their destination, avoiding the complications of surgery and hormonal alteration altogether.
If a man chooses at some point that he is ready to have a child, or would like the barrier to be removed, he need only visit a clinician and have the material flushed out with a simple sodium bicarbonate solution.
With minimal healing time of just a week, the procedure brings us one step closer to providing safe and trustworthy contraceptive options for everyone.