Vasalgel vs. The Pill: How The Breakthrough Male Birth Control Measures Up
By now, you’ve probably heard about Vasalgel, the new male birth control method scheduled to hit the market in 2017. In short, it's a dream come true — a non-condom way to prevent pregnancy that puts some of the responsibility on the guy, for once. Basically, it's Vasalgel is a non-hormonal gel that blocks the flow of sperm when injected into a man's vas deferens, a.k.a. the area where sperm flows.
It's been a long time coming. Back in 2010, The Parsemus Foundation began developing a polymer contraceptive. This week, their press release renewed hope for everyone, everywhere. After reporting Vasalgel’s success on a group of male baboons, researchers from the Parsemus Foundation announced: "If all goes well, [the institution will] be planning for clinical trials with humans to start next year."
If Vasalgel does, indeed, hit the market in 2017, this could be a breakthrough for the birth control industry, which has traditionally relied on women to take responsibility for long-term birth control methods. Aside from having a vasectomy or wearing a condom, men have been left out of the birth control equation — until now. Forgot to take your birth control pill this morning? No problem, if your boyfriend, husband, steady-hookup or whomever you spend your evenings has the new Vasalgel injection. Hate the mood swings that you get from The Pill? Ditch your pack — Vasalgel has you covered.
But what exactly is Vasalgel, and how does it compare to the pill?
What It Is
Most birth control pills — also known as an oral contraceptive — combine the hormones estrogen and progesterone to prevent ovulation.
Technically, Vasalgel is a polymer hydrogel that is injected into the vas deferens vessels—that is, a gel-like substance that's inserted into the tube that carries a man’s sperm. The vas deferens is the same tube that is cut when a man gets a vasectomy.
Once injected into the vas deferens, Vasalgel forms a temporary blockade to prevent the flow of sperm, thus acting as a reversible version of a vasectomy. Unlike female birth control methods, Vasalgel is non-hormonal, and thus does not affect a man's testosterone levels.
How effective is it?
If taken correctly (at the same time everyday, chewed if indicated) oral contraception is 99 percent effective. Certain medications can make the pill less effective, including the antibiotic rifampin, the anti-fungal griseofulvin, St. John’s wort, and certain HIV medicines and anti-seizure medicines.
Though Vasalgel hasn’t yet been tested with humans, the Vasalgel studies on three male baboons have proven successful. After leaving the three baboons in a contained area with a plentitude of lady baboons (10 to 15 female baboons per each male baboon…!) for a month, none of the females have gotten pregnant.
The researchers have also not yet attempted to reverse the effects of the injection on the baboons yet. If the reversal tests fail, Vasalgel will essentially be an injection alternative to a vasectomy.
Long term use
Because this form of birth control only involves ingesting a daily pill, deciding to come off birth control is as easy as putting away the pills.
As Dr. Vanessa Cullins told Bustle in this article by Sara Spruch-Feiner, there’s technically no reason that you should ever have to take a break from your birth control, despite the common myth that you need to come off The Pill every few years for health and fertility reasons. According to Dr. Cullins, it’s perfectly safe for a woman to stay on the pill as long as she’s trying to prevent pregnancy.
Because researchers have not yet tested Vasalgel’s reversibility yet, it still remains to be seen if this birth control method differs at all from a traditional vasectomy. If future studies show that the drug’s effects can be reversed and the sperm can resume its normal flow after a second injection, then the Parsemus Foundation hopes this can be the ideal long-term birth control solution for men who want the option to have children later if they so choose.
Vasalgel could also benefit couples that want double the protection against pregnancy, giving women who may occasionally miss a daily dose a little more peace of mind.
Also according to Dr. Cullins, the birth control pill is much safer now than it was at its creation in the 1960s, containing lower quantities of hormones than the original versions.
So far, Vasalgel has been tested on rabbits and baboons. Regulatory agencies need to conduct a few further preclinical safety tests before the drug can be tested on humans.
Potential side effects include nausea, weight gain, mood changes, lighter periods, blood clots, depression, and spotting between periods. Though all of these side effects have been linked to the birth control pill, not all women experience all or any of them while taking the pill.
Because Vasalgel doesn’t tamper with a man’s hormones as do female birth control pills, the male contraception is unlikely to have the same extensive list of side effects as do the birth control pill.
Ease of Use
While actually swallowing or chewing a daily pill seems less complicated than receiving an injection as with Vasalgel, finding a convenient time to take your birth control at the same time each day can prove difficult for busy (or forgetful) women.
Vasalgel isn’t as easily administered as the pill, but it does have the advantage of being a one-shot deal. Vasalgel is injected once to block the flow of sperm, and then it’s done. If a man decides later that he does, in fact, want to have children, another, similarly quick and painless injection should reverse the birth control effects by unblocking the sperm ducts, though researchers still need to confirm the procedure's reversibility with future tests.
The injections supposedly take less than 15 minutes to administer, and are supposed to be painless.
Oral contraceptive pills are now either free or very inexpensive under health insurance, making it an accessible birth control choice.
Though researchers won’t be able to put a price tag on the new contraceptive method for a while, The Paresumus Foundation intends for Vasalgel to be a low-cost, widely accessible medical approach to birth control.