New Technologies in Birth Control for Guys
Originally Published: July 3, 2011
Revised: September 5, 2012
When you look at all of the available birth control methods, it seems like guys have only two options: using condoms or getting a vasectomy. Clearly the condom option tends to be the more popular of the two, because a vasectomy, which cuts the vas deferens so sperm never leave the penis, is intended to be permanent. After all, how many young guys want to have an operation that will end the possibility of one day having children?
What if there were new birth control technologies on the horizon that gave guys the ability to prevent their partners from getting pregnant? Some are actually in the works. What are these options, and would you or your partner want to try them?
One of the most talked about upcoming birth control technologies for guys are hormonal methods. Female hormonal methods—like the Pill, the patch and the NuvaRing—work by preventing ovulation. Male hormonal contraceptives (MHCs) would release hormones such as testosterone and progestin and reduce a guy’s sperm count to a point where the chance of pregnancy occurring is about one percent. That’s just about as effective as female hormonal birth control methods.
Now, you’re probably thinking, what form will this method be in? A shot? A pill? And will it have side effects? Just like female hormonal contraceptives, MHCs would come in multiple forms. Within the next five years, after being approved by the FDA, an injection MHC is expected to become commercially available, with pills, patches and implant versions following within seven years.
While they don’t protect guys from sexually transmitted diseases, they could definitely be used as backup birth control in case a condom breaks.
Each of these methods has its pros and cons. The pill is an easy way for guys to take MHCs without a health care professional, but relies on their ability to remember to take it. Implants are more long-term methods that are effective for up to 12 months and require a trained health care provider to insert them under the skin.
When you change the hormone levels in your body, there may be some side effects. In the case of MHCs, the change in testosterone levels is so minimal that the most severe side effects were minor weight gain and acne, but these were rare. If you’re wondering whether taking MHCs would affect your ability to one day have kids, put your fears to rest. MHCs are designed to be temporary. Once a guy stops using an MHC, his hormone levels and sperm production will most likely return to normal. (In the clinical trials, the sperm counts of only two of the 1,000 test subjects didn’t return to their previous levels.)
New birth control methods that don’t involve hormonal changes are also being researched. Indian scientist Dr. Sujoy Guha invented a procedure called Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance (RISUG). This birth control method requires a trained professional to inject a gel into each of a man’s vas deferens, which prevents the sperm from leaving the penis. (The gel either kills or disables the sperm.)
The science behind the gel is pretty complex, but studies have shown that the gel’s effects are reliable and can last up to ten years. If a guy ever decides that he wants to have children, a solvent composed of sodium bicarbonate, which dissolves the gel, is injected into each vas deferens, allowing the sperm to travel freely.
For guys who are afraid of injections, a French company has designed a special pair of underwear that brings the testes close to the body, raising their temperature and essentially cooking the sperm to the point where a guy is infertile. (Remember, sperm are very sensitive and need their temperature regulated.) If you use this method and ever feel the need to have kids, just be sure to wear boxers for a few days and your sperm count will be back to its normal levels.
These methods are all “on the horizon,” but start to think about how they could change your life. While they don’t protect guys from sexually transmitted diseases, they could definitely be used as backup birth control in case a condom breaks. Hopefully they will give guys options that they are comfortable using, so pregnancies will always be planned.
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