In Depth

Will male contraceptive injections transform birth control?

Men could soon have more contraceptive choices, but many question why it's taken this long

Several new male contraceptive methods currently in development will soon allow couples to share the burden of birth control.

An injection called Vasalgel is furthest along in clinical trials and promises to revolutionise contraception. "This is a total game changer," says Aaron Hamlin, executive director of the Male Contraception Initiative.

What is it and when will it be available?

It is a long-term, non-hormonal contraceptive injection that is administered via the scrotum. A polymer is injected into a man's vas deferens, blocking sperm from leaving the body with no impact on orgasm or ejaculation. 

Following successful animal testing, human trials are expected to begin next year. If the results are as positive, Vasalgel could hit the US market as early as 2018.

Early testing has shown that the process is easily reversible – unlike a vasectomy – but further trials are needed to prove that it has the same effect in humans.  

What has the response been?

"New contraceptive methods, including for men, are needed and much welcomed. The more options the better," says Susan Cohen, from the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization which works to advance reproductive health.

Vasalgel has a number of advantages over female contraception. It is non-hormonal, which eliminates side-effects like mood swings that can be caused by the Pill. It also doesn't interfere with the production of sperm itself, whereas some female birth control does interfere with ovulation, says the Daily Beast

It will give men options beyond condoms and vasectomies – and will take the financial, emotional and physical burden of family planning off women. "The responsibility has fallen disproportionately on women’s shoulders (and nether-regions) for too long," says The Guardian's Jessica Valenti.

But will men want to use it?

"Do you know how hard it is to get a man to wear a condom?" asks Valenti, who says she isn't convinced that a man "who refuses to roll a latex sheath over his penis is going to put his legs in the stirrups and let a doctor pierce his scrotum."

But Elaine Lissner, the executive director of the organisation behind Vasalgel says whether men use the contraceptive is beside the point. "Not all men will use it, but not all women use birth control either," she said, "The point is to have something for everybody. Right now men don't have a lot of options."

What else is in development? 

Gendarussa, which works by interfering with the sperm's ability to fertilise an egg, is another non-hormonal contraceptive and has gone through Phase II trial in Indonesia. US scientists are also developing an anti-Eppin agent that stops sperm from being able to swim. 

The "clean sheets pill" – which inhibits ejaculation but allows the sensation of orgasm – is another method currently being developed in London. Although still in the early stages, it promises to be a fast-acting male contraceptive with the potential to drastically reduce male-to-partner transmission of HIV.  

Why is it taking so long?

"It's to do with maths," Dr Allan Pacey, Chair of the British Fertility Society told the Daily Telegraph. "Both the methods and the market are already there. Ultimately, it's now about convincing the venture capitalists to step up, but it's extremely expensive."

The pharmaceutical industry has long been wary of investing in new methods of birth control – particularly long-term ones – as it would take away from the lucrative oral contraceptive market.

As the Daily Beast's Samantha Allen says: "Why sell a flat-screen television to a man, after all, when you can rent one to a woman for a decade?"

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