The male birth control shot is cheap, effective, and administered in a relatively painless 15 minute outpatient procedure and has been in existence for 25 years. It is currently going into small sample human trials and should be available in the United States in the next 3-5 years. It lasts for ten years and is easily reversible. The story of why it wasn’t available here sooner and how exactly it works medically are important to our health and our continued fight for reproductive rights and equality. Let’s get started.
The male birth control shot would involve a 15 minute procedure in which a gel is injected into the vas deferens after a topical anesthetic is applied. This gel renders sperm infertile as they pass from the testes (where sperm is stored and made) to the penis (the sperm dispenser) through the vas deferens. It is biologically safe material and can easily be dissolved if the patient decides they would like to become a dad. The lag time for fertility returning is 2 months or so, which is comparable to the lag time of fertility when women get off of birth control. There are no side effects except slight scrotal swelling at the site of injection. This is a step up from vasectomies that can cause painful pressure and granulomas. The shot would end up being cheaper than the syringe it would be administered with. It wouldn’t change how sex would work for the patient, and they could get it on a week after the procedure. (source)
Paging Dr. Misogyny
25 years?? 25 years of testing and we have not heard about it until now. 25 years of use in India, on humans, where it was said to be 100% effective and we have not jumped on board until now. I understand that the medical standards in India are not as stringent as the FDA’s standards, so we couldn’t just take their word for it, but come on, couldn’t we have at least gotten started on this a little bit sooner?
I think that the reason it has taken so long for this shot to make real progress in the Western world is the patriarchy and, surprise!, the special interests of the drug companies.
Drug companies want something they can sell repeatedly. This shot is a one stop shop — once the patient gets it they never have to get it again. In theory, if one age group of men all got it, there would be years before there would be another large group of men in need of it. So they continue to push Viagra and focus on women’s birth control, of which there are a dozen varieties all in need of multiple doses. Also, the drug would not make them much money if it costs less than the syringe it’s delivered in. Many experts say that this drug would make a huge difference for young families living in poverty — if they can limit the size of their family, they have a better chance of getting ahead. Drug companies are not interested in selling one-time use drugs for the sake of charity and The Greater Good. Drug companies want to make money.
The female birth control that is equivalent to the Vasalgel shot is the IUD. IUDs do not interrupt sex, are easily reversible/removed, and they can stay in up to 10 years. (Unfortunately, they have a lot more potential negative side effects than the vasalgel shot.) But there are many forms of female birth control that can be used for short term and intermediate periods of time – diaphragms, spermicide, deppo shots, patches, pills, rings, etc.
Of course there are also condoms, which are both male and female, but male condoms are more commonly used, and therefore the only birth control men use on a regular basis. Culturally, condoms are seen as the only thing that men have to worry about in that department and sometimes they don’t even want to do that. Getting a vasectomy is viewed as something a man only does after he’s had a family, and as something that takes away from masculinity and is painful and embarrassing (despite the fact that it is also a 15 minute outpatient procedure). So I’d like to know where all of the male intermediate forms of birth control? I understand and wholeheartedly appreciate the independence and freedom that birth control gives women. But since the advent of the pill, the scales seemed to have tip in the direction of women having the most options/responsibility. In another completely unjustified dichotomy, women are given all of the responsibility for the policing and consequences of sex, while likewise being policed.
The attitudes that I am referring to are alive and well, and in the media for everyone to see. The Huffington Post writes: “One downside — depending on how you feel about shots — is that it requires the man receive an injection into the vas deferens with a polymer gel called Vasalgel, after a local anesthetic has been given.” I would like to point out that the procedure they’re describing is identical to that of a vasectomy except for an injection that the patient won’t be able to feel. This is a good time to remind everyone that an anesthetic is a drug that keeps people from feeling pain. So to recap — same procedure as vasectomy, but injection and no pain. Got it? Okay. Moving on.
I tripped across this little gem of an article on a website called “Nerve.” Here there be monsters:
“Everyone throw away your condoms, there’s a new birth control for men with a 100% success rate. (Throw away your condoms after you get the procedure.) A new procedure under clinical trials in India is turning out some very exciting results for the not-into-wearing-condoms-male community. (Kind of a large community.) The method works by injecting a polymer gel called Vasalgel into the penis, which then breaks apart the sperm before it can cause, you know, life. The downside: by injected, I mean injected, as in you have to get a needle straight into your jimmy for this to work. Is a small bit of dick-centric pain worth a decade of worry-free sex? (Assuming you haven’t forgotten about the existence of STDs.) That depends on your tolerance for dick pain and your love of barebacking.
…Come and get it boys, but don’t forget: a shot straight into your penis.
Needle. In. Penis.”
You know what else is physically painful? Giving birth. Getting a depo shot every three months. Getting an HPV vaccine. Getting an IUD inserted. Getting an abortion. Cramps during your period.. Ovarian cysts. Having a miscarriage.
Welcome to the pain party. But you know what? It’s fucking worth it. Because if the woman you love or the woman you want to have sex with doesn’t want a baby, then she shouldn’t have to have a baby. End of story.
And let’s not forget to mention, that the shot only prevents the sperm from being able to fertilize the egg. It does not protect against STDs/STIs so condoms are still absolutely necessary to prevent infection. So when “Nerve” decides it’s cute to make jokes about throwing away all of your condoms, and casually forgetting about the existence of STDs, I despair for birth control equality and fair sexual treatment of women.
Even worse, the drug companies, combined with misogynistic and horrible behavior, are causing other men to suffer (gasp!). Because in an amazing turn of events, there are a lot of other men in the world who are extremely interested in using this drug because they love their partner, because they want to be responsible, and because they are mature enough to see that these issues are much more important than the pain.
So I guess what I’m asking for is a little bit of charity and understanding. Charity in the sense that money should not be considered in such an important health issue. And understanding that women have gone through a lot of pain — I think you can take one for the team. One shot in your dick is a small price to pay for trust, happiness and equality.
For a more positive and in-depth look at this new drug, check out this article from WIRED.
Written by Peggy Korpela
follow her science, health and feminism blog thebiobabe