Birth control for men
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Birth control for men: what are the options?

By Sarah Moses Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - 16:24
Contraception for men – what’s available and what’s still on the drawing board? The topic has been in the news of late, but many are still confused. We take a look at how things stand with male contraceptives.

A final birth control special to mark the launch of our partnership with DKT.

Available methods

Men looking for family planning today don’t have a lot in the way of options compared to women. Birth control, which have been around for centuries, remain the best bet. And though they’re very effective against STDs, condoms are not totally foolproof when it comes to birth control. What’s more, some men have issues with condom comfort during sex.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the vasectomy – when a man gets the tubes that carry his sperm tied or sealed. Vasectomies are very effective and safe, but the thing is, they’re permanent.

A man can also choose to practice the withdrawal method, which means taking his penis out of a woman’s vagina before he ejaculates. But there’s a chance he’ll slip up, and with this method there’s no guarantee against pregnancy.

Methods in the pipeline

But what of the future? There are a number of new male contraceptive options that could be coming to your bedroom soon.

  • RISUG/Vasalgel

Vasalgel is a gel that stops sperm dead in their tracks. Also known as the reversible vasectomy, Vasalgel has been tested for years as RISUG in India.

When Vasalgel is injected into the tubes that carry sperm, a man orgasms normally except that when he ejaculates, there’s no sperm in the semen. And that means that the woman he’s having sex with won’t get pregnant.

Unlike a permanent vasectomy, Vasalgel lasts as long as the man wants it to. When he’s ready to have babies, it just takes another minor operation to flush the gel out of his tubes, and his sperm are free to swim again.

At the moment Vasalgel is currently only available for men in some parts of India. But it looks like clinical trials will begin in the US in 2013 and it could be available there in 2015.

  • Intra vas device (IVD)

Other kinds of ‘reversible vasectomy’ are also being tested. One of them is the intra vas device (IVD). The IVD works like a plug blocking the man’s tubes so the sperm can’t get out until he decides have the IVD removed again.

One model of IVD has been tested on men in China, but recent setbacks mean that it’ll probably be a years before it’s available there.

  • Male hormonal contraceptives (MHCs)

Hormonal birth control methods for men work by blocking testosterone in the testes, which stops them making sperm.

Different combinations of hormones have been tested, and so have different ways of taking them – injection, implant, pill, or gel – but researchers keep running into problems and there isn’t an MHC available for men today.

But there’s a chance this could change in the near future. A new contraceptive gel that men can apply to their skin each day might be the solution to some of the past problems of other MHCs.

Just under 9 percent of the 56 men testing out the contraceptive gel in a recent study made so few sperm there was pretty much no risk of them getting a woman pregnant. Between 69 percent and 78 percent of those men made no sperm at all, researchers reported.

The hormone combo in the gel didn’t have any unpleasant side effects, and the men found it easy to use. It’s only in early stages of testing, but researchers believe it’s got enough promise to take the research further.

  • A pill for men?

Though the birth control pill for women has been around for decades, there hasn’t been much to be hopeful about when it comes to a contraceptive pill for men. Until now, that is.

A small molecule called JQ1 temporarily stops male mice from making sperm, a recent US study found. When the mice go off ‘the pill’, their sperm count shoots back up and they’re fertile again. The good news is that JQ1 doesn’t affect their sex drive. So these mice still look for female mice to have sex with, they just can’t get them pregnant.

Though JQ1 isn’t ready to be tested in men, researchers are optimistic about its chances of being an effective non-hormonal method of birth control.

  • The ‘clean sheets’ pill

An ejaculation-free orgasm? Well, that’s the idea of the ‘clean sheets’ or ‘dry orgasm’ pill. Men taking the pill would likely feel all the pleasure of an orgasm, but make very little semen or none at all.

Still in early stages of testing, UK researchers are hoping to use over 15 years of research to create a clean sheets pill that’s safe for men. If they’re successful, this pill could have serious added benefits – if men who take it don’t ejaculate at all, it could actually help prevent the spread of HIV.

  • Ultrasound male contraceptive

Therapeutic ultrasound, which is usually used on joints in physical therapy and sports medicine, might just be the long-acting, reversible, non-hormonal male contraceptive researchers have been looking for.

To make sperm, the testes need to be kept a little cooler than the rest of the body – that’s why they’re hung on the outside. Ultrasound works by heating the testes just enough to temporarily stop sperm from being made.

In fact, the ultrasound method first showed promise as a male contraceptive in animal studies in the US 40 years ago. Now US researchers have shown that two short ultrasound sessions two days apart can make rats infertile for 2.5 months.

In men, just one round of ultrasound treatment could be good for up to six months of contraception, researchers believe. But before that can happen, more research is needed to see how long the method lasts and also if it’s safe for men to do more than once.

 

Would you try one of the new male birth control methods? Leave a comment here or join the discussion on Facebook.

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