Remember back in sex ed when your teacher demonstrated how to put on a condom by using a banana? That was probably the best argument for abstinence I can think of. Even though it was back in the fifth grade, I still have vivid memories of my teacher, who was fairly old, struggling with to get the condom out of the package, and then over the tip of the banana, which seemed at the time to be frighteningly large. The males in the class seemed even more freaked out at the thought of one day putting one on themselves, and suddenly birth control pills seemed like a pretty good idea (understandably, our teacher didn’t bring up the possibility of a vasectomy). Sex ed teachers will soon have another form of male birth control to tell students about — something called Vasalgel, which works by blocking sperm from leaving the vas deferens.
Vasalgel is a contraceptive developed by the Parsemus Foundation, whose mission is developing affordable birth control. It’s similar to RISUG (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance), a contraceptive that works by injecting a polymer into the vas deferens that coats the sperm and makes them incapable of fertilizing an egg. RISUG has been tested in clinical trials in India for some 15 years. Vasalgel works pretty much the same way, via the injection of a contraceptive into the vas deferens. The only difference is that, instead of rendering the sperm incapable of fertilizing an egg via a chemical coating, the injection blocks the sperm’s passage through the tube. Both methods of birth control are fully reversible — a follow-up injection flushes out the polymer if a man decides he wants his swimmers to actually get somewhere.
A recent study with baboons confirms Vasalgel’s effectiveness. Three male baboons received the treatment and then were encouraged to get it on with a dozen female baboons. For six months they did their thing, and none of the female baboons got pregnant. The study resulted in some additional funding for Vasalgel, which makes it possible to the Parsemus Foundation to start human trials next year. If all goes well, Vasalgel may be on the market by 2017. It’s unclear just yet how expensive the procedure would be, but the Parsemus Foundation says it will be cheaper than an IUD and no more “than a flat-screen TV.”
One of the upsides of Vasalgel is that, unlike the birth control pill, it’s non-hormonal and thus, doesn’t mess with a man’s mood, testosterone, sperm production, or other bodily processes. It simply blocks the sperm at the beginning of their usual journey, instead of requiring the insertion of unwieldy and sometimes uncomfortable devices inside a female’s body.
This method of birth control could be revolutionary, so I’m rooting for a successful and easy trial phase and quick approval from the FDA. Vasalgel would not, however, stop the spread of HIV or other STDs, as they’re transmitted not just via sperm but via seminal fluid. And thus far, there are no commercials for Vasalgel that are anywhere near as catchy as the condom dance.