Seemingly since time immemorial, the burden of long-term contraception has been predominantly lain on the fairer sex, and before any men start shouting “condom” from the rooftops, I did say “long-term”. The cornucopia of contraceptive choice for men is pretty slim pickings, and hasn’t really progressed for around 100 years; realistically limited to either the aforementioned condom, or a vasectomy, which, if we’re talking about long-term solutions, is just about as permanent as they come.
However, there is hope for the chivalrous gentleman keen to alleviate the responsibility of remaining baby-free from their partner. Lo and behold, new scientific research appears to be close to a breakthrough in the virgin world of male contraception.
An earlier attempt to create a jab suitable as a male contraceptive hit rocky ground when participants reported side effects such as depression and muscle pain, with 20 men dropping out of the year-long clinical trial.
The new process involves injecting a gel, known as Vasalgel, into the tubes used by sperm to swim down the penis, which then acts as a physical barrier.
Well you shouldn’t be. The procedure is anticipated to be far less painful than getting “the snip”. Furthermore, experts are expecting the new approach to be far more easily reversible than a vasectomy.
The injection of Vasalgel has already been trialled on Rhesus monkeys, in a study published on Basic and Clinical Andrology, including 10 who were already fathers. The study was conducted at the University of California and aimed to prove that the process could actually prevent pregnancy, rather than simply blocking sperm – which had already been proven in an earlier trial involving rabbits.
Having been observed for a week, the monkeys under trial were released back into their co-ed habitat, rejoining their fertile female counterparts. Researchers found that, whilst the monkeys were still mating, over a period of more than a year, and up to two years in particular cases, there were no resultant pregnancies.
What makes these results especially compelling is their comparison to the tradition pill, which has a typical success rate of 99 per in humans. Vasalgel has a 100 per cent success rate in the most recent trial on Rhesus monkeys.
Additionally, the side effects reported by men from previous hormonal injection trials, of low moods, depression and muscle problems, did not appear to materialise in the Rhesus monkey trial for Vasalgel.
An initial trial focused on rabbits found the process relatively simple to reverse; a second injection designed to flush out the gel using a simple solution was successful however, this is yet to be proven to work in monkeys or people.
Current research into Vasalgel is being funded by not-for-profit outfit The Parsemus Foundation, who say they will look to undertake clinical trials on humans as soon as they gain the necessary funding. Catherine VandeVoort, the lead author of the research, is excited by the early results of the trials: “Men’s options for contraception have not changed much in decades. There’s vasectomy, which is poorly reversible, and condoms. If they knew they could get a reliable contraceptive that could also be reversed I think it would be appealing to them.”
“One of the great things about the monkey model is that the male reproductive tract is very similar to humans and they have even more sperm than humans do.” “Chances are, it’s going to be effective in humans.”
Professor Allan Pacey of the University of Sheffield thinks that there could be widespread interest in a reliable male contraceptive alternative: “The idea of trying to replace the traditional method of vasectomy by inserting a gel into the tube which carries sperm from the testicles to the penis at ejaculation is not a new one.” He continues: “However, we haven’t seen much progress in developing the idea in recent years, so this study is a useful step in the right direction.”
It is worth noting that this method of contraception would not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. However, in terms of an effective method of pregnancy prevention, early signs are extremely positive.
It is not yet clear how long it will be, or if indeed the procedure will get to the point of public availability however, clinical trials on humans seem set to take place sooner rather than later.