Sounds like an oxymoron, right? But it’s true.
Now it’s the man’s turn to assume some responsibility in the contraceptive arena! No longer is it just a man’s choice between using condoms or getting a vasectomy. Amazing new options are on the horizon! Researchers are investigating various forms, targeted solely towards men, which are showing very promising results. These options range from a long-acting injectable gel to a quick-acting male pill that could potentially markedly reduce the transmission of HIV.
According to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Government’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 80 percent of heterosexual women have used birth control pills at some point in their lives to prevent pregnancy. Birth control pills became available to women in the 1960’s and represent the most common contraceptive used in the United States today. Interestingly, global demand for male birth control appears increasingly popular, with a 2005 German survey revealing that 60 percent of men in Spain, Germany, Brazil and Mexico are willing to use a male contraceptive.
What is this new injection procedure?
It’s called Vasalgel and involves an injection into a man’s genitals which inhibits sperm motility. It’s a new form of contraception known as, RISUG, reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (1). Yes, many men may become queasy just imagining a needle being injected into these tender areas. After receiving a local anesthetic, a small amount of polymer gel is inserted into the vas deferens of each testicle. The vas deferens is the conduit which transports sperm from the testicle to the penis. The procedure apparently takes less than 15 minutes, works by destroying the sperm, lasts up to 10 or more years and is more easily reversible than a vasectomy!
When and if the man decides to return his sperm back to speedy and motile swimmers, another shot is given. Within 2-3 months, active, functional sperm are functioning again.
These studies have been ongoing for the past 25 years and found to be safe in both humans and animals. Researchers are optimistic that the procedure will become available in the U.S. by 2015, with clinical trials beginning this year. At present, trials are only being conducted in India.
What about the new male birth control pill?
In Papua Island, Indonesia, tribesmen have discovered a shrub called “Gandarusa” that acts like a birth control pill for men. Per one tribesman, “If you chew the leaves often enough, your wife won’t get pregnant.” The potential benefits derived from this shrub are undergoing close evaluation and appear to work by slowing down the activity of certain enzymes in the sperm that allow them to penetrate a woman’s egg. For fertilization to occur, a sperm must enter the egg. According to Sugiri Syarief, the head of Indonesia’s state-run National Family Planning Coordination Board, multiple animal and human trials have been conducted since the 1990’s and the plant’s effective compound was patented in 2007. Researchers have tested the pill on two different groups of male volunteers, the first 36 men, and later with 120 men. Trials involving more than 350 men are presently being done to verify that the sperm remain healthy yet are incapable of this critical penetration process in fertilization.
What else is looming on the horizon?
Possibly another type of male birth control pill may become available. Discovered by accident while studying male infertility patients, a group of Scottish scientists recently found a key gene essential for sperm development. Per Dr. Lee Smith at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, if scientists are able to regulate the Katna1 gene in the testes, they could prevent sperm from maturing completely, making them ineffective without changing hormone levels (2).
So why hasn’t the male birth control pill become available in the United States?
Profit, or lack thereof, is the apparent culprit! Per Elaine Lissner, director of the non-profit Male Contraception Information Project in San Francisco, the impasse to male birth control pills has been the lack of profitability for the pharmaceutical giants. “It’s a nightmare from the ‘for-profit’ standpoint. We have to accept that the needs of for-profit entities and the needs of the public don’t always perfectly match.”
Definitely makes one wonder – what are pharmaceutical companies actually pouring their financial resources into? Another drug for erectile dysfunction which makes a hearty return on investment or a male birth control pill which yields little return but carries huge global population impact? Well, time will tell but I’m thinking the former!
What do you think? Please share your comments!