Male Contraception: It’s Finally Here.

Dear CF,

We’ve been waiting for it for so long, you, me, men, women, and it might be here: male contraception. (I feel like there’s a Second Coming joke living in there, but I’m not touching it.)

There have been others—therapeutic ultrasound, for instance—but this method is so inexpensive that the most expensive part might be the syringe. RISUG, developed Sujoy Guha, is “a tollbooth on the sperm superhighway.” Basically, a polymer is injected into the vas deferens where it sticks to the walls, allows for the passage of sperm, but ruptures cell bodies and damages tails as they pass. It seems to be simple, effective, and reversible.

There are some concerns that the polymer injected into the vas deferens might be toxic, but while it’s true that the individual components aren’t good for you, the combination seems innocuous (they compare it to sodium and chloride—toxic individually, table salt together).

As for men not wanting it?

“If you’re looking for the better mousetrap, this is it,” Ronald Weiss says. “I have received emails from men all over the world kind of champing at the bit to get RISUG.”

Mousetrap

 

“Our options suck,” fumes one frustrated correspondent, a Florida real estate manager who emailed Guha a few years ago. “I’d gladly put my balls on the chopping block for the benefit of mankind.”

Ronald Weiss found out about RISUG, tried to bring it to Canada, but found no corporate partners. As for pharmaceutical companies not including this particular avenue in their R & D, even when it was brought to them?

“Pharmaceutical companies are not interested in one-offs,” Weiss says. “They’re interested in things they can sell repeatedly, like the birth control pill or Viagra.”

You wrote about the history of the pill and why you should talk to people at parties. This is another one of those stories.  Elaine Lissner, an activist in the U.S., started working on male contraceptive options when she realized both how unavailable it was and how quickly a real and serious need was dismissed. Even one of the developers of the birth control pill, Carl Djerassi, declared that no woman then alive would see a male contraceptive in use during her reproductive lifetime.

She wrote a paper outlining what was being done about nonhormonal methods of male contraception, which could be summed up in two words: not much. There were actually, she discovered, men who soaked their testicles in scalding hot water, thinking (correctly but painfully) that it would reduce their fertility. There had to be a better answer.

Hearing about RISUG research in India, she started her own company, Parsemus, and started funding efforts to bring Guha’s work to the U.S.

More good news: “Just this past year, in fact, Guha received a $100,000 Gates Foundation grant to pursue a variation of RISUG in the fallopian tubes as a female contraceptive.”

Her lab is starting toxicology tests here.

The whole story is at Wired, and is obviously worth reading in full, as this is a big, big deal:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/04/ff_vasectomy/all/1

It’s too soon to cheer without reservations—obviously everyone wants this solution to be as safe as possible (although no medical intervention is absolutely safe; the pill raises the risk of blood clots and high blood pressure, among other things). But it’s worth thinking about how this major step had to happen: not in a superrich technological society so full of willing buyers who are literally boiling their genitals in frustration, not through the pharmaceutical companies whose claims to be investing in research for human betterment (so that the dying universities don’t have to!), and not through the perpetuation of social myths that say men are too irresponsible or thoughtless to take a pill, but through the individual efforts of a committed scientist and a woman whose commitment to choice transcends gender, as feminism should.

Fondly,

M

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