In Brief
  • A one-time injection of Vasalgel effectively controlled sperm counts in male monkeys, preventing them from getting any female monkeys pregnant for up to 2 years afterwards.
  • If approved for use in humans, this male birth control method could help everything from the economy to the mental and physical health of its users and their families.

Male Contraception

Right now, birth control options for men are limited to physical prophylactics (condoms) or surgery (a vasectomy), and there hasn’t been a major update in male contraception in more than 100 years. Last year, trials for a hormonal option began, but they had to be stopped early due to some unforeseen adverse side effects. Now, a new option is making its way through the required steps toward approval for widespread use, and it is reported to be completely reversible and much less invasive than a vasectomy.

Vasalgel is a one-time injection that has been shown to control sperm counts in monkeys. In fact, several of the treated monkeys were unable to get female monkeys pregnant for up to two years after the injection. The injection places a polymer gel in the tube through which sperm travels, the vas deferens, blocking sperm from joining the other bodily fluids that make up a man’s ejaculate. No adverse reactions were reported in either the testing done on rabbits or the monkeys.

jinterwas/Flickr
Credit: jinterwas/Flickr

The Democratization of Choice

The cost and potential complications of male or female surgical methods of birth control limit their availability worldwide. Condoms can be expensive given that they are only designed for a single use. That’s not even considering their relatively high rate of failure, from 15 to 20 percent. The not-for-profit company behind Vasalgel plans on marketing the product with an international pricing structure to maximize the potential of universal affordability for all men. This means it could play a huge part in the lives of people all around the globe.

Giving people more choices when it comes to birth control actually benefits us all. According to an article in The Atlantic, “…couples who experience unintended pregnancy and unplanned childbirth are more likely to have depression and anxiety — while adults who plan their children tend to be happier.” These findings come from a group of studies compiled by the Guttmacher Institute. And the benefits don’t stop at better mental health.

There are also clear economic benefits to greater control over reproduction. According to Martha Bailey, a University of Michigan professor of economics, “Cheaper and more reliable contraception allows parents to delay childbearing, to invest in their own human capital, and have children when their incomes are higher.” This kind of choice also allows for healthier individuals and families as poverty can be tied to higher rates of illness.

The product still has a few more regulatory hoops to jump through even before it can be submitted for approval to bodies such as the FDA. Still, any news regarding male-centered methods of birth control are worth noting, especially when they seem as promising as this one. The Parsemus Foundation’s original estimates of availability by 2018 may have been a lofty goal, but Vasagel is well on its way.