Scientists have been working on a form of male birth control for years now, but it’s possible that we finally have a winner. Vasalgel, a non-hormonal polymer that blocks the sperm-shooting vas deferens in men, has shown promising results in a baboon study and could be available by 2017.
The Parsemus Foundation, a nonprofit organization that develops low-cost medical approaches, aims to start human trials for this contraceptive by next year. After finding that baboons injected with Vasalgel didn’t impregnate the 10 to 15 female baboons with which they shared the same space, scientists saw the possibility of the injection working in humans, too.
Vasalgel is non-hormonal and only requires a single shot to be effective for a long time. A polymer contraceptive is injected into the vas deferens, which transports sperm from the epididymis to the ejaculatory ducts. Unlike a vasectomy, which is permanent, Vasalgel could be reversed by flushing the polymer out with another injection, leaving sperm open, free, and available to do their job once more. If Vasalgel proves successfuly in human trials, couples in long-term relationships could enjoy sex without the hassle of condoms — and the adverse side effects and expenses of the female pill.
'Revolutionizing' Birth Control?
If Vasalgel, or something like it, becomes widespread, then unwanted pregnancies — which occur at rates of 80 to 90 percent in women younger than age 19 — could also drop significantly. Females would no longer be under pressure to ask their partners to wear condoms or to take the pill themselves. Men, likewise, could find a quick and easy solution to having frequent sex without having to worry about babies.
So if this becomes a birth control revolution of sorts, everyone is happy, right? Probably not big pharmaceutical companies, who hope to maintain female birth control pill sales and will most likely put up a fight to keep their businesses afloat. These companies make their money off a pill that must be taken every day and thus replenished; this cycle keeps the cash coming in. As Samantha Allen writes on The Daily Beast, “Why sell a flat-screen television to a man, after all, when you can rent one to a woman for a decade?” A single injection contraceptive could create a barrier for female pill business.
One of the ways that current birth control pill companies might fight back is through advertising the other potential health benefits of pills, such as claiming they relieve period-related issues like cramps or headaches. In 2009, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cracked down on the popular pill Yaz, which advertised that it could also cure pimples or PMS symptoms, in addition to preventing pregnancy. But instead of helping other health issues, female birth control pills are more likely to cause adverse side effects, including headaches, dizziness, breast tenderness, nausea, bleeding, decreased libido, mood swings, and depression. In addition, birth control pills have been shown to slightly increase your risk of stroke, blood clots, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and liver tumors — especially among smokers. While this doesn't mean that female birth control users are damaging their health, it simply means that a potential male contraceptive could be safer than ever before — for both parties.
There is yet another thing to consider: Will Vasalgel also reduce condom use, and thus protection against sexually transmitted diseases? If a man gets a Vasalgel injection and stops using condoms for birth control, he might have a higher chance of getting or spreading STDs. But male birth control is still a few years away — and trials will first need to be completed in humans. So for now, condoms are probably your one-stop shop for protection against both pregnancy and STDs.