Vasalgel, the latest in new male birth control, has been all over the news recently, as it will start being tested with human males this year and next — after having tested successfully with rabbits and baboons. As of now, the Parsemus Foundation, the non-profit behind developing Vasalgel, hopes for a 2018 launch date. You may be wondering — why take Vasalgel? How does it work? Is Vasalgel the birth control method for you?
Basically, it’s a gel that’s injected into a guy’s vas deferens — you know, the tube that sperm swim through. But, unlike a vasectomy, the vas deferens are not snipped and sealed to block sperm. With Vasalgel, the gel itself prevents the sperm from getting through it. In a trial with rabbits and baboons lasting about a year, Vasalgel was shown to work. Reversal was accomplished by getting an injection of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) solution. Wow — science, right? Since reversibility studies haven't been done in humans yet, Vasalgel should be thought of as a vasectomy alternative.
“Women have multiple options (each with its own drawbacks), but right now there’s nothing out there both reversible and highly reliable for men,” Elaine Lissner, founder and executive director of the Parsemus Foundation, tells Bustle. “Clearly, we need an effective, long-acting, reversible option for men. Many men are excited about Vasalgel because it could be that option.”
Having yet another birth control method available at our fingertips — or vas deferens, as it were — is another bonus of Vasalgel. And having that method be in the guy’s court is a game-changer, too. As you know, there are countless options for women out there (the pill, IUDs, the patch, etc.), but not as many for men (primarily, um, condoms… at least for the men who don’t want their vas deferens MIA via a vasectomy). Plus, with the gel, guys won’t suffer from hormonal side effects like females do with certain birth control methods. In fact, Vasalgel could revolutionize birth control as we know it.
“The burden of contraception falls disproportionately on women, partly because women have several long-acting contraceptive options, though they have drawbacks including unpleasant side effects, inconvenience, and expense,” says Lissner. “Meanwhile, many men want control over their reproductive future — and they’re willing to share responsibility for contraception more evenly with women, especially if they can preserve their ability to produce children in the future.”
I spoke to some men who revealed why they’d like to take Vasalgel when it becomes available. Here’s what I found:
1. Dane, 32
I’d be interested in taking Vasalgel as an alternative to traditional, female birth control. As a male, I like the idea of having control over my own reproductive system in a manner that females currently enjoy, that is also non-permanent. I’ve been dreaming of a male birth control option for years and there have been way too few options. It’s about time something safe and effective was introduced. Men, up to now, have only had the very limited, viable options of condoms and vasectomies for controlling their own ability to reproduce. I see it as an opportunity for men to share in the responsibility that is birth control and perhaps take the load off of women in that area. Women have been expected to take pills and insert foreign objects into their bodies, exposing themselves to possible side effects in the process. With more options for men, it takes some of that pressure off of women. Introducing a product to an undeveloped market such as this can only open the door to more new and exciting options. Plus, more opportunities for men to have sex, child-free? That has money written all over it.
2. Byron, 27
Vasagel is a wonderful idea, because it gives me piece [sic] of mind about birth control. I don't have to depend on anyone else to make sure that my parental concerns are addressed and respected, and it’s reversible, so if I do want to have children with someone I trust, I don’t have to freeze my sperm or anything expensive to recover my ability to have kids. Plus, it gives men the ability to choose their parental timing, as opposed to leaving it up to their partner to choose for them, or to solely rely on condoms as a preventative measure, which can tear or be messed with. Protection is always more effective in pairs — the standard for contraceptive prevention has been a combination of condoms and birth control pills, or sterilization from one of the partners — but now, for the first time, men have an option with semi-permanent protection from pregnancy. It can be medically proven and relied on, unlike every other method men have available to them. Vasagel will allow another choice to men who want something between the permanency of a vasectomy and temporary condom. And choices are always good, especially when dealing with potentially life-altering consequences. I personally can’t wait! I think it’s going to be a new wave of birth control and it will really change the playing field from ‘How can I prevent pregnancy’ to ‘How can ‘we’ prevent it?’ I think it will really close down opportunities for entrapping pregnancy scares that are pretty common, allowing men more ability and control over their lives.
3. Declan, 33
Vasalgel is shaping up to be a terrific birth control technology for those people, like me, in a committed relationship who don’t want kids for a while. Condoms aren’t great. I certainly don’t enjoy using them. From what I’ve read, Vasalgel may be the holy grail of birth control: a very effective, safe, reversible procedure with no side effects. “The Pill is a great contraceptive — when it doesn't f*ck you up, which it does to many women, including my partner. The recent twitter hashtag #MyPillStory and terrific book Sweetening the Pill (soon to be a documentary) on The Pill have documented the side effects: depression, anxiety, vomiting, panic attacks, paranoia, flu-like symptoms, infections, fatigue, brain fog. As a sociologist, I know from talking to medical science colleagues that male birth control research is not viewed as being as prestigious as female birth control. Really, Vasalgel should have been on the market decades ago but the patriarchal medical establishment has de-prioritized it.
4. Ric, 38
I’ve been happily married for 10 years, father of four children. I do not wish to have anymore children in the future; four is plenty. I don’t want to have a vasectomy. I’m interested in Vasalgel because I've read about complications from vasectomy, including testicular pain, autoimmune effects and granuloma formation. That being said, I would also consider using Vasalgel because I do not want my vas deferens severed. I want to keep my body functions operating as normal as possible. I’m not interested in reversal at all. I do hope reversal is possible one day, for the global impact it could have in preventing unwanted and/or teen pregnancies and overpopulation, but it’s not a factor for me personally.
5. Miracle, 20
I’m personally interested in Vasalgel because, as a college student with a lot planned out in the future (medical school and traveling the world to serve the less fortunate), I have a vested interest in keeping the possibility of realizing my dreams as realistic as possible. It would be difficult for me, if not outright impossible, to have a family while doing these things, so I was very concerned about unplanned pregnancies and their effect on my future and take all the proper precautions. Vasalgel, however, gives me an extra layer of security, so I would be willing to try it.
I’m excited for Vasalgel to enter the market because, assuming it does, it would revolutionize the concept of birth control. Just as the Pill did for women in 1960, Vasalgel would grant responsible men sexual autonomy over when they decide to have a family. A multitude of surveys have indicated that men would use a male contraceptive, so I believe that it would be incredibly positive if Vasalgel were to enter the market.
6. David, mid-30s
If I had not gotten a vasectomy, and if Vasalgel was available at the time, I would have chosen the Vasalgel procedure in a heartbeat. While my doctor was excellent, and there have been no complications from the vasectomy, I still prefer the idea of reversibility. It would have also been easier for my doctor to arrange: it took nearly a year of cajoling to get him to refer me to someone who performs vasectomies, since I was relatively young, childless, and single at the time, and they were worried that I would be trying to get it reversed in a few years. Naturally, I haven’t, but I can understand their trepidation.
I think that Vasalgel is beneficial for a number of reasons, not least of which being that it will shift the nearly complete burden of birth control away from women. While women are (obviously) disproportionately affected by pregnancy, they should not be held solely responsible for preventing it, and Vasalgel gives men the chance to use a non-barrier birth control system. Hormonal birth control (HBC) has other uses, of course — my partner is particularly interested in using it to suppress her period altogether — and having another option is great for those who cannot take HBC. I think that giving men, as well as women, a non-barrier birth control choice will allow pregnancy to become even more of an opt-in, rather than opt-out, decision. I look forward to seeing it being eventually made available in North America, and the world at large!
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