Perhaps you are one of the many people who read headlines recently about a promising new male contraceptive option.
Please take a moment to pat yourself on the back for being in the know, when it comes to reproductive and sexual health innovations.
Now, allow me to pour cold water on your fantasies.
On March 30, 2016, the Journal of Basic and Clinical Andrology published a study outlining the effectiveness of a new drug called Vasalgel. It's preemptively marketed as the first long-acting, reversible birth control option for men.
Vasalgel is a gel-like substance that can be injected into the vas deferens in order to prevent the release of sperm into other liquids, sugars and proteins that travel through the male reproductive system and make up semen. The injection therefore renders an ejaculation sterile — empty of sperm and unable to cause pregnancy.
Hmm, you are saying. Let me get this straight. This is a long-acting birth control option? That is reversible? And is the responsibility of a male?
Yes, yes and yes.
According to the study, Vasalgel lasts for at least 12 months, resulting in azoospermia (no sperm) in each of the study participants throughout the time frame of the experiment. This means that based on very preliminary investigation, using Vasalgel as a birth control option would require that a male receive one injection to have a year’s worth of results.
This is less maintenance than taking a birth control pill daily, using a hormonal ring like the Nuvaring monthly, receiving the depo shot every three months, and certainly using a new condom for every sex act.
It is also reversible. Until now, a vasectomy has been the single long-term, male-centered pregnancy prevention option available. Vasectomy is a surgical procedure where the vas deferens is severed and can no longer act as a conduit for sperm.
While a vasectomy is safe and effective, it is typically considered permanent. That's because reversing a vasectomy would be expensive, difficult and there are no guarantees that such a surgery would be successful.
This study, and research on similar substances, suggest that Vasalgel can be effectively flushed from the male system when desired. While the most recent report was not continued long enough to confirm this, it is possible that after a certain amount of months, Vasalgel’s sperm-immobilizing effect may wear off on its own, as well.
And yes, to confirm unequivocally — this is a MALE birth control option. A procedure performed on a MALE, impacting a MALE’s reproductive organs, requiring a MALE to take responsibility for his squirmy little DNA-carrying fetus builders.
But hold onto your IUD strings, ladies. Let’s get a few other details straight.
While this study marks extremely preliminary steps toward the creation of a long-acting, reversible male contraceptive, the key word that most other writers reporting on this story seem to be overlooking, is PRELIMINARY.
It is not necessarily the groundbreaking, headline-worthy event that some news sources are turning it into.
But HANNAH, you are shouting — don’t you get it? This could be an ENTIRELY new and innovative method for preventing pregnancy! How could you be so cynical???
Well, to start, this study is actually just an iteration of ongoing research being performed on similar gel-like substances that immobilize sperm in males’ vasa deferentia.
According to the actual journal article, India has been experimenting with more concentrated versions of this polymer for decades.
The substance that is being called Vasalgel is a hybrid with a slightly different concentration of acid and reactant. The purpose of the study was to determine whether this new combination would be equally effective as the pure version. It was not to test a totally new pharmaceutical product.
Secondly, especially when it comes to reproductive and sexual health, but really when discussing ANY kind of medical research, I like to see rigorous studies and irrefutable — not extrapolated — evidence.
This study’s findings are based on the experience of 12 rabbits. And while bunnies may be a good starting point, the sample size is TOO small and the animals are TOO different from human males for me to feel confident in the results.
While other news sources have suggested that this male contraceptive may be on the market as soon as 2018, the journal report only indicates the additional investigation is necessary.
And I don’t know about you, but if I had a penis, before I let part of my reproductive organs be injected with gel, I’d definitely want to see more extensive studies on large and varied populations that accounted for any long-term impact on the body, and were not based on subjects associated with magicians’ hat-tricks.
So, let’s remember that NEW products are NEW, and let's practice some healthy skepticism before we cancel our next well-women’s check up.
But cheer up. At least this means you are spared my rant on women releasing contraceptive control. Or the fact that this gel does not do anything to prevent sexually transmitted infections ... for now, anyway… stay tuned.
And please comment. Would you trust Vasalgel? Are there males you know who would be interested in the injection?
Reviewed April 4, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
“Azoospermia in rabbits following an intravas injection of Vasalgel.” BioMed Central. Basic and Clinical Andrology. Website Accessed 4/1/16.
“Reversible Male Birth Control Vasalgel Shown to Prevent Pregnancy in Rabbits.” Newsweek. Website Accessed 4/1/16.
Non-hormonal male contraceptive Vasalgel has proven efficacy in rabbits.” EurekAlert. AAAS. Website Accessed 4/1/16.