BY: BRITTANY ROSEN
In 2017 the Parsemus Foundation will be releasing Vasalgel: a contraceptive for men. If you’re a female and you’ve been on the pill all this time, you can look forward to sharing the responsibility with guys.
The relief of not having to worry about unplanned pregnancy may seem too good to be true; however, a study is currently underway using baboons in the Parsemus lab in order to test the effectiveness of the product. So far, it has tested well, and is now being prepped for human studies, which according to their website, should be ready to be conducted early this year.
Birth control may be a common contraceptive method for many women; however, the birth control pill only came onto the Canadian market as recently as 1960, according to the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health. Although legalized in that year, the pill could only be purchased with a doctor’s prescription and used for the reason of menstrual regulation, not as contraceptive. Birth control was being sold illegally before this and people caught using it or selling it could be arrested or fined, just as nurse Dorothea Palmer was for distributing the drug.
The Canadian Federation for Sexual Health also says that decriminalizing contraception occurred as late as 1969, the same year the association was founded. Before that year, it was a crime to abort or use any contraceptives, including condoms and birth control.
However, birth control has long been an issue of gender inequality, dating back as early as 1850 BC where women would take a pill made from honey and crocodile feces as a form of contraceptive. Finally, men will be given the option to take their fair share of responsibility. Unfortunately, unlike a woman’s contraceptive, men’s birth control won’t be as simple as popping a pill. Although, on the bright side,—and unlike the pill—the male form of contraceptive will not need to be taken daily.
The product is a gel that’s injected into the male’s vas deferens—the tube that carries the sperm— working to obstruct the sperm flow.
Vasalgel is similar to a vasectomy except that the company says it’s easily reversible.
According to the Parsemus Foundation’s website, “The quick procedure is similar to No-Scalpel Vasectomy (NSV), except the doctor injects the vas with gel, instead of cutting it.
However, the site’s FAQs aren’t too promising. Human trials haven’t been conducted, so the public isn’t informed of the drug’s ability to prevent impregnation or its side effects. The answers that the company gives seem suspiciously like they’re just telling people what they want to hear. For example, the FAQ, “Is Vasalgel reversable?” is answered with “The idea is to develop a fully reversible long-acting male contraception…” In other words, no, they haven’t found out how to reverse it just yet.
As far as pricing goes, the Parsemus Foundation has also stated:
“Vasalgel’s developer is committed to making it affordable and widely available—close to cost in low-income countries, and less than current long-acting contraceptives in the U.S.—but until the process is further along we won’t know exactly how much it will cost. We’ll have to charge enough to make the company sustainable, but for sure it won’t be $800 like long-acting contraceptives (IUDs) for women in the U.S. A contraceptive shouldn’t cost more than a flat-screen TV! It is likely that the cost for the doctor visit will be more than for the product. We’ll also work to get it covered by insurance.”
Here’s how Vasalgel works:
Dr. Nadia Bugada shared her opinion about Vasalgel, stating that every form of birth control has its pros and cons. She says it isn’t for everyone, as it depends how comfortable a person is and what they are willing to do to protect themselves. Bugada was asked how men feel today about vasectomies, as the Vasalgel procedure is similar to it.
“With my experience, there are not a lot of males that jump into a vasectomy. A lot of males think about it long and hard…there’s a subset of the population that would not be interested in it,” Bugada said. “They may be a bit hesitant about it,” she said, in terms of the procedure’s reversibility. “If it’s something that could be reversed with a procedure that would be much more attractive.”
Although Bugada thinks that males wouldn’t necessarily “jump” to get the procedure—as pain may be a limiting factor for many— Bugada says the idea of taking a long-term single procedure birth control method, rather than short-term daily pills—like a female birth control pill— is more effective, as it’s more likely to avoid human error, such as forgetfulness. Therefore, if Vasalgel carried no side effects and proved to be highly effective it would be a good option according to Bugada.
“If it’s as effective as I think, it’s a great idea. It all would depend on the interval and the percentage. There’s always a chance of infection,” she said. Bugada also said that there is always a chance of people having a bad reaction to certain birth control, in which case it could be better to take a pill because it is out of one’s system within 24 hours.
Extending on the idea of human error and forgetfulness, Bugada said that there are similar birth control methods to Vasalgel for females, in terms of how often it’s taken. NuvaRings, IUDs, Progesterone and the Ortho Evra Patch are all long-term alternative birth control methods to the pill.
Although Bugada supports the gel procedure, “[she] would think that 2017 is not feasible” to release Vasalgel, as human trials and other important reports haven’t been recorded yet and this could take a lot of time.
However, would men even consider this new birth control in the first place?
Josh Young says that he would.
Elaine Lissner of the Male Contraception Information Project with a vial of Vasalge
“Based on how much internal damage female contraceptives can do to a woman’s body, Vasalgel could be a less harmful and more conventional alternative. I have always used protection, but I can imagine how much easier and comfortable sex would be knowing that I don’t run the risk of getting a girl pregnant. I’m conscious about what I introduce to my body, but if this contraceptive doesn’t have any adverse side effects and is open to the public, I can’t see a reason for myself or any guy that is sexually active not to use it,” he said.
Brittany Pearl, is also in favour of this contraceptive method, who can’t see herself having children in the future and has even been denied getting her tubes tied by a doctor because of her young age of 25 years.
Pearl stated that she and her boyfriend have already discussed the issue, and her boyfriend would undergo the procedure in a heartbeat.
“Becoming pregnant should not be only the worry of a woman, it should be a man’s concern as well. It’s a rights thing too because they say if a girl gets pregnant they don’t really have a choice…it gives men the opportunity to also protect themselves. The more forms of birth control a couple can use, the more freedom they have in terms of sexuality.”
Although Pearl and Young think men’s birth control is a good idea, Wyatt Turner and Conor Norman would disagree. Turner’s girlfriend, Jessica Janicki, agrees with the both of them.
“I’m already on birth control, so it seems useless. A pill is a lot easier than getting gel put into your body,” Janicki said, adding that it would encourage guys not to wear protection, creating a more likely chance of transmitting STDs.
Hypothetically, if everything went as planned and Vasalgel was released in 2017, FDA approved with no side effects and was now being offered to the public, where would the female birth control industry stand? Bugada thinks it wouldn’t change much.
“I don’t think guys are going to jump on it that quickly, because historically they haven’t played a major role in birth control…I think there’s a place for everything because everybody has their opinion. When the NuvaRing came out it didn’t have an effect on the birth control pills,” she said.
Birth control for men would be a huge innovation for the birth control industry, but like Bugada said, there are always pros and cons. Some could argue that it would be safer, but when it comes to someone’s body and levels of comfort, everyone is different. Many people don’t even use birth control, simply because there can be so many complications Others are quick to point out that the cost of a life is a far greater complication than any birth control medical issues. Regardless, the important thing is that male birth control not only provides an additional option, but also marks the progression towards gender equality in the realm of contraceptive responsibilities.