When it comes to selecting contraceptives, women have a lot more options than men. Women can choose from pills, patches, vaginal rings, IUDs, diaphragms, hormone injections, tubal ligations, and much more. In contrast, men pretty much only have two choices: condoms or vasectomies. However, a lot of guys aren’t in love with either of these options. Condoms have long been maligned for reducing sexual pleasure, and vasectomies are really only viable for men who are certain that they do not want future children, given that this procedure cannot always be reversed. Fortunately, men may soon have another choice: Vasalgel.
Vasalgel is a long-lasting contraceptive that works from inside the male body. It is not supposed to have any impact on sexual functioning or pleasure and should be easier to reverse than a vasectomy. It is non-hormonal too, meaning that it should not have any major side effects either. So how does it work?
Vasalgel is based on an injectable contraceptive that scientists in India have been developing for over a decade, known as RISUG, which stands for Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance (certainly not the catchiest name or acronym—score one for Vasalgel). Both Vasalgel and RISUG involve injecting a polymer into the vas deferens, which is the tube that carries sperm away from the testes. My understanding is that the Vasalgel polymer works primarily as a blockade against sperm, whereas the RISUG polymer still lets sperm through, but those sperm are disabled or deactivated along the way. Neither of these injections affect sperm production itself; rather, their goal is simply to prevent active sperm from exiting the body.
Animal studies have shown that the injections are fully reversible by just flushing the polymer out of the vas deferens; however, there are no human data on reversibility rates as of yet. We also currently lack human data on overall effectiveness at preventing pregnancy. Clinical trials of Vasalgel are expected to get underway this year, so we should know the answers to these questions soon. If successful, the manufacturer of Vasalgel estimates that it could end up on the market as soon as 2017 (but, if you ask me, that sounds a bit optimistic and assumes that the product sails through all of the necessary approval processes).
It will be interesting to see how men respond to this new contraceptive development and if it ends up shifting more of the responsibility for birth control away from women. I would imagine a lot of guys will not be enthusiastic about the prospect of a doctor putting a needle in their groin; but at the same time, a few moments of discomfort seems like a pretty small price to pay for long-term peace of mind.
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