Sexual Studies: Male Birth Control

Every Saturday the CSPH highlights news or recent research in the field of human sexuality. This week we’re discussing a new birth control procedure, currently in advanced clinical trials in India, which is administered to men.

The procedure, called RISUG in India (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance), takes about 15 minutes and is effective after about three days. A doctor applies a local anesthetic, makes a small pinhole in the base of the scrotum, reaches in with a pair of very thin forceps, and pulls out the small white vas deferens tube. Then, the doctor injects a polymer gel (called Vasalgel here in the U.S.), pushes the vas deferens back inside, repeats the process for the other vas deferens, puts a Band-Aid over the small hole, and the man is on his way. The polymer’s pattern of negative/positive polarization causes the sperm to be torn apart through a process called the polyelectrolytic effect. The procedure is said to be effective for 10 or more years.

The procedure is reported to be both simple and inexpensive. If the man decides he wants to “reactivate” his sperm, he can get another shot and, within two to three months, the effects of the original shot are reversed – a procedure vastly more simple than reversing a vasectomy.
The RISUG is also reported to be safe to use on both humans and animals. Researchers are hopeful that the procedure will be on the market in the U.S. by 2015, with clinical trials beginning in 2012. Currently, the process is only available to Indian men involved in the trials.

The fact that this safe, inexpensive, and easy procedure is not being more hotly discussed points to a few key cultural and social issues surrounding contraception. The RISUG prevents pregnancy (and is reportedly 100% effective), does not involve latex or pills, involves no hormones that can interfere with mood and/or sex drive, and has seemingly no negative health effects. The fact is, if men only need one inexpensive shot every 10 years or more, pharmaceutical companies will not make money. The procedure also requires an increased amount of responsibility and effort on the part of the male partner to visit the doctor and have something injected into their genitals – something that may deflect a large number of men from having it done. Because the RISUG does not protect people from sexual transmitted infections (STIs), it should to be used in addition to condoms (just like the Pill for women) in order to protect against a variety of STIs. If the RISUG procedure does become available in the U.S., it will likely change the tone of our society’s conversation about birth control – hopefully for the betterment of sexual equality and health.

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