The news: Come 2017, the contraception landscape might look very, very different.
Vasalgel, an up-and-coming non-hormonal form of birth control for men, announced in a press release last week that its preclinical trials on primates had been successful. "If all goes well, [we] will be planning for clinical trials with humans to start next year," said the release.
The procedure is simple. As the name suggests, it works by blocking the vas deferens, the part of the male anatomy that carries sperm. It's similar to a vasectomy, but because it blocks the vas deferens instead of cutting it, the idea is to make the procedure easily reversible, with no lasting sperm damage. According to Vasalgel's developer, the Parsemus Foundation, a second injection would flush out the gel when the man no longer wanted it.
Trials involving male baboons have yielded (or not) promising results. Six months ago, three male baboons were injected with Vasalgel, and a month ago were moved to separate enclosures with 10 to 15 females each. Despite regular copulation, no pregnancies have been reported, though researchers will keep them together for a few more weeks to be sure.
The Parsemus Foundation says large-scale human trials are on the table for 2015-2016, and if everything goes according to plan, the gel will be on the market in 2017. The price? "It is likely that the cost for the doctor visit will be more than for the product," the organization says.
A brief history of male birth control: Unlike female birth control, which is extremely common, birth control for men is more elusive, excluding condoms. "The push for male hormonal contraceptive goes way back, more than a half-century ... starting in the 1950s, researchers were saying it was just around the corner, within the next five years," Elaine Tyler May, author of America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril and Liberation, told Gizmodo.
Yet a product still hasn't emerged, likely for a few reasons. May told Gizmodo that one of the side effects of potential male birth control pills has been impotence, and nobody wants that. A second hurdle is physiology; men make 1,000 sperm per second, whereas women make one egg per month.
Another reason is pharmaceutical companies. They would much rather provide (and charge) a woman every month for birth control, rather charge for a one-time procedure like Vasalgel. As the Daily Beast puts it, "Why sell a flat-screen television to a man, after all, when you can rent one to a woman for a decade?"
Save for a vasectomy, Vasalgel may be the next best option. It doesn't protect against HIV or STIs, but then again, neither does the pill.
This may change the conversation. If Vasalgel does become as widespread as researchers hope, it may lead to some interesting changes in the debate over reproductive health. Women's bodies have always been social and cultural battlegrounds, and nowhere has this been more evident than with access to birth control. What happens when it's men's bodies in question and not women's?
No one knows — at least not yet. But if Vasalgel does make it in 2017, we might have an answer sooner rather than later.
h/t The Daily Beast