Men may soon be getting a new option in the contraception department. (Getty Images)
When it comes to contraceptives, women have choice — from pills to patches to IUDs.
Guys, on the other hand, don’t. Condoms and vasectomies are their only options and both have weaknesses. You’ll hear plenty of complaints about satisfaction and effectiveness with the former, and the latter is, well … a bit extreme for many guys.
Science may be on the verge of a game-changing new option in male birth control, spearheaded by the Bay Area-based Parsemus Foundation.
The group is currently working on a substance called Vasalgel, an injectable barrier that creates a seal in the male vas deferens (AKA the small tube through which sperm generally travels). Once it’s in place, the gel works like a filter to allow fluids to pass through, but not sperm.
Unlike a traditional vasectomy, though, Vasalgel should be incredibly easy to reverse if evidence from animal trials is any indication. An additional injection quickly dissolves the barrier, allowing men to resume their fertility.
In lab testing so far, the technology has proven effective in baboons and rabbits. Elaine Lissner, director of the Parsemus Foundation, says Vasalgel is about on par with the closest female equivalent — the IUD — for preventing pregnancy. “So far, it’s even a little better,” she tells Yahoo Health.
The science behind this “new” technology actually has a long history, including a related formulation that has been in clinical trials in India for 20 years. This was the inspiration for Vasalgel.
Lissner and her colleagues bought the rights to pursue the gel-barrier form of male contraception in the West, but shifted the formulation to create a more shelf-stable product.
Scientists at Parsemus want to begin clinical trials for Vasalgel next year, with plans to bring it to market within three years if all goes well. “That timing is optimistic, but you’ll read about bringing something to market within five to 10 years, and that often means it’s never going to happen,” Lissner explains. “This timeline means this may actually happen.”
But will it replace traditional vasectomy?
The lack of ease when it comes to reversal makes a vasectomy a leap for some men, says Jamin Brahmbhatt, MD, co-director of The PUR Clinic and a specialist in male fertility and men’s health. “You’re basically clipping the vas deferens, which has risks,” he tells Yahoo Health.
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Overall, the procedure is great for many men who no longer want children; it’s a cheap, quick and ultra-effective form of birth control. Brahmbhatt says some men can experience post-vasectomy issues, which he urges them to consider before going ahead with surgery. These include bleeding, infection, chronic pain after the procedure due to sperm build-up in roughly one in 1,000 cases, and ineffectiveness in roughly one in 2,000 cases.
While Lissner and her colleagues hope to wipe out the concerns associated with traditional vasectomy, Brahmbhatt says he’s unsure if Vasalgel will become a better option.
As a doctor specializing in vasectomy reversals, he thinks the concept of a gel polymer such as Vasalgel is great. However, he cautions that the polymer may not be without drawbacks. “It’s a very small spot in the vas deferens that they’re injecting, the lumen, which is literally fractions of a millimeter,” he explains. “The vas itself is just two to four millimeters, and the surgical tools we use to put the tube back together again are finer than your hair.
“My fear is that scarring from the injection of a gel barrier might prevent a reversal,” he continues. “Since there’s no long-term data on this, there’s no guarantee about the effectiveness of a reversal.”
Despite this concern, our generation seems like it might be ready to embrace a vasectomy gel. “We have 20,000 men and women on the waiting list to hear about clinical trials,” Lissner says. “It took a societal change, but after 20 years or so, people finally get that men are interested in this.”
The gel technology does sound very promising, but like Brahmbhatt explains, it is early. “It’s great that someone is taking up this cause, but I’d wait before buying too much stock in yet,” he says.
In a few more years, however, male birth control might look very different. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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