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It’s Time To Change Our Minds About Male Contraception

by hridika ahire

It’s Time To Change Our Minds About Male Contraception

May 5, 2021

For centuries, our society has been of the opinion that contraception is a women's responsibility. We're inching closer to viable contraceptives for men. Whether they'll actually use it remains a question.

Sex And STDs

While sex is looked at as just a way of pleasure and a way to guarantee that our family line is continued, it is more than that. Sex helps keep our immune system humming, improves a woman’s bladder control, lowers the risk of heart attack, and so much more. Unfortunately, sex is also the cause of sexually transmitted diseases. For centuries, it was only the woman’s job to make sure that she is safe and does not get pregnant. Women would often prevent pregnancy by douching vaginally. But that did not provide any protection against any sexually transmitted diseases. The lack of information about these diseases led to the American military being diagnosed with 400,000 cases of syphilis and gonorrhea which was a historic high.

For the longest time, the only way of birth control that was male-oriented were condoms, vasectomy, and the pull-out method. None guaranteed protection against sexual diseases. One incident which confirmed that condoms have been used for decades was the story of King Minos. According to this story, every mistress that King Minos ever had sex with, would wither away mysteriously. It was said that King Minos had ‘Serpents and Scorpios’ as semen. To protect the Queens and to make sure that no one else died after having sexual relations with the King, he was given a protective sheath made from goats’ bladder. It was the first-ever recorded incident of the use of condoms. In the coming years, the use of animal bladder and intestine as a way of male contraception became quite popular. Soon condoms made out of linens also became available to people.

Latex Condoms Are Old News

When Charles Goodyear, a self-taught American chemist, and manufacturing engineer, developed rubber vulcanization in 1839, it opened new doors for the development of condoms. Although it is disputed that it was Goodyear but Thomas Hancock, that discovered rubber vulcanization. This gave a chance to the scientists to develop more efficient condoms that would prevent any form of STDs from spreading. The number of people contracting STDs started dropping after this invention. In 1920, a new type of condom became popular. It was the latex condom. As people’s sexual preferences changed, the types of condoms change. It went from a simple latex that covered the penis, to glow-in-the-dark, ribbed, flavored condoms. But around 4.3% of the world’s population suffer from latex allergy.

A group of Australian scientists has been working on replacing the latex with a material called “tough hydrogel”. Hydrogels can feel more skin-like, making them an excellent choice for making a condom. A group in Boston has also developed a coating that can be applied to a condom that allows them to self-lubricate. It was found that HydroGlyde Coating, the self-lubricating condoms can withstand at least 1,000 thrusts whereas, normal condoms can last for 600 thrusts only. Cynthia Graham, a professor in sexual and reproductive health from the University of Southampton and researchers at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University has developed a new type of condom that uses a built-in applicator. It comes with a wrapper that has a pull tab for easy grip and unsealing.

Why Is The Burden On Women?

Among condom, vasectomy, and pull-out methods, the most reliable method is getting a vasectomy, which is a surgical procedure. But it is becoming less and less popular. In fact, in countries like India, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) recorded 800 cases of vasectomy in 2015-16 which decreased to 725 cases in 2016-17. Whereas the number of women who underwent tubectomy every year was 20,000, showing that society still thinks contraception is a woman’s responsibility. In times like these, new ways of male contraception become vital.

Now it’s not completely society’s fault. Men do produce over 1,000 sperms per second whereas a woman produces only one egg per month. Therefore, it was easier to develop women-oriented contraception. It is also the question of even if scientists came up with a pill or injection or implants for men, would they use it? While men in stable relationships are in favor of these methods, the men who are having casual sex and are not in a relationship were not in the favor of male contraception according to a study.

Vasagel and Clean-Sheets Pill

There’s time for men to change their mind and be in favor of male contraception since these products are still not out in the market let’s talk about them. First there is an injection. It is a Vasalgel injection which is basically a polymer gel that gets injected into the sperm duct via the scrotum. The gel blocks the sperm from coming out but allows the rest of the fluid ejaculate as normally. If you wish to reverse it, then you get a second injection that dissolves the gel. Vasalgel is similar to Reversible Inhibition of Sperm under Guidance (RISUG) which has been trialed in India and is in its 3rd stage of trial. Although, we are still unsure whether the product will be sold in the market as there is not much funding available.

The second method of male contraception is the clean-sheets pill. It is a drug developed in the UK and is based on phenoxybenzamine and thioridazine, which have the ability of stopping muscles from contacting. If the muscle in the vas deferens does not contract, the sperms aren’t pushed forward and there is no ejaculation whatsoever, hence the name ‘clean-sheets’. Although people may be opposed to the idea of a dry ejaculation but it reduces the changes of catching an STD so maybe think about what’s more important? John Guillebaud, a professor of family planning and reproductive health at the University College of London says that it will take at least 10 years to develop the product.

Herb, Implants And JO1

The third method is using a herb. There is a pill that is made up of an active ingredient of gendarussa, a shrub native to Indonesia. The drug is being developed in Indonesia as the herb is available there in bulk. The pill works by blocking the enzyme that allows the sperm to couple with the egg. When trials were conducted on 300 men, only one pregnancy was reported. The fourth contraception is an implant. The drug that is delivered through the implant is anti-Eppin that bind to the protein on sperm and stops the sperm from swimming towards the egg. It can be taken orally or can be implanted in the skin. Br. Michael O’Rand, president of EppinPharma, the company developing the drug says, “When we finish toxicology and non-human primate testing, we will be ready for a phase one human trial. However, this is several years away.”

The fifth product is a genetic drug, called JO1 that turns of the BRDT gene that is responsible for the sperm production in the testicles. From animal testing, it was seen that the drug takes six weeks to achieve temporary infertility and one to three months for it to return. The sixth product is a hormonal pill. The pill is a combination of two sex hormones, androgens and progestogens. These pills will instruct the brain to shut down the natural hormones that stimulate the testes to produce sperms. While the drug proved effective, it also caused liver damage so let’s just avoid that.

Time For Men To Be Responsible As Well

The last product is the “bright pill”. It is a temporary compound that hampers the reproductive capacity of sperms. It has been developed by Professor Haim Breitbart of Bar Ilan University in Israel. On testing it with mice, it was found that the mice became infertile for one to three months and had no side-effect on their sex drive. The professor says, “The mice behaved nicely; they ate and had sex. They were laughing and everything.”

With so many new options being developed for men to take birth-control in their hands, we do hope they come out soon. It is high time that men have as much variety in contraception as women have, right? We are sure that with proper funding and tests, these products will soon be available in the market.

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