If you were a woman in Ancient Greece, you might have smeared your lady parts with olive oil to prevent pregnancy. Had you been a woman of the 1920s, you might have douched with Lysol and if you had the misfortune of being acquainted with Rick Santorum, you might have even used Bayer Aspirin.
A woman today might pop a hormonal birth control pill in the morning and consider herself pregnancy-proof for the rest of the day. But in the future, women might be able to ditch oral contraceptives altogether, because their male partner could have them covered.
The new frontier of contraception is all about men. Of course, it makes more sense to take the bullets out of the gun than to wear a bulletproof vest — and with current options, women are playing Russian roulette.
When it comes current options, men can choose between vasectomies (which are permanent) or condoms (which many men find annoying or uncomfortable and have a 14-percent failure rate under normal use, according to the FDA).
Women have more options but the variety is really just repackaging. Think: NuvaRing for women tired of taking pills, Implanon for women who want something long-lasting and Seasonique for women to minimize menstruation.
“I’ve probably been on more than 10 types of birth control and each type did something different to me,” reported a female College sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous. “Some made my PMS worse, some made me throw up every day, some made me have my period for two weeks at a time. You name the side effect, and I had it.”
Eventually, she settled on a pill that she feels is working for her — although this one puts her at a high risk for blood clots.
“Hormones affect everything from A to Z: acne, appetite, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes risk, depression, and so on,” Elaine Lissner, director of the Male Contraception Information Project, explained. “We don’t need to run that experiment again on men — we can do better.”
And she’s right: although nothing is on the market just yet, laboratories around the world have been fiddling with fertility for a viable male contraceptive without manipulating hormones.
One budding technology is aptly nicknamed the “clean sheets pill,” adapted from a blood pressure pill that unexpectedly caused dry orgasms. Men reported that when they took the pill, their orgasm felt exactly the same, sans semen.
Aside from clean sheets, the drug could be an important tool in the fight against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases spread by semen.
Another option on the horizon is reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance, or RISUG, developed by Indian scientist Sujoy Guha. The technology involves placing a jelly-like polymer inside of the vas deferens — the vessel that sperm travels through before ejaculation — which filters out sperm like a block of Swiss cheese, according to Lissner. Tiny holes allow seminal fluid through, but are too small for the head of sperm to pass. As a result, ejaculate is sperm-free for ten or more years. The procedure can also be easily reversed.
Here’s the real kicker: in the United States, RISUG is being developed under the name “Vasalgel,” and is set to go for medical approval in just four years.
“When you hear four years, you know that this could actually happen,” Lissner said.
The benefits of a technology like RISUG are threefold: the procedure is long lasting, extremely effective (in clinical trials, properly-implanted RISUG has enjoyed a 100 percent efficacy rate) and since the procedure is localized to the vas deferens, it’s free of side effects.
Since Vasalgel is being developed in the U.S. by the Parsemus Foundation, a social venture, we can expect a price that isn’t marked up for pharmaceutical profits, a la female contraception. Certainly compared to a decade worth of birth control pills or condoms, the price point for Vasalgel would come out on top.
But would men be into it? Lissner says yes — and studies agree. In a poll from CBA news, nearly 70 percent of male respondents expressed willingness to try new male contraceptive options. College-aged men in particular, who want something less permanent than vasectomies but more so than condoms, are perfect candidates for new contraceptive technologies.
“It’s not all men,” Lissner noted. “There is always going to be the guy who says, ‘don’t touch my junk!’”
To the men who want to keep their semen, sperm and all, fair enough — but don’t expect women to continue riding the hormonal rollercoaster of birth control pills.