Ball injections and testosterone tablets: The future of male contraception

Is it time to curb the condom?

Taking the daily pill has always been the responsibility of girls, with boys getting off lightly in the complicated world of reproduction. 

But this looks set to rapidly change as dozens of male equivalents are under development to stop you becoming a dad.

Earlier this week a male contraceptive injection which goes in your balls, which got us all a bit squeamish, was announced. Unless you’re into some pretty kinky fetishes, sharp objects near your private parts is a frightening prospect. Questions remain over the lack of a male equivalent to the pill and the need for condoms if we can develop pills to stop pregnancy.

We found out what the jab involves and what else is available.

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More than a little prick

How exactly does the ball injection work?

It might sound like you have to be a pretty ballsy bloke to get it done, but here are the facts.

Vasalgel is injected – thankfully under local anesthetic – into the sperm carrying tubes and through the scrotum. Experts promise it won’t hurt. While the injection will block off semen, you’ll still be able to orgasm.

Take the jab once and you won’t become a daddy for 10 years, but it can be reversible at any time with another jab. Girlfriends and female mates complain about the side-effects of the pill, but it looks like this will be non-hormonal – bringing with it no mood swings or some of the dangerous side effects recently in the press.

It’s expected to hit the US market in just three years time, and we should be seeing it over here not long after.

What else is out there?

A swift snip of some of your prized inner tubes and you won’t have to worry about causing unwanted pregnancy again. But a vasectomy also means the likelihood of having kids in the future is slim.

A vasectomy can be reversed, but the success rate is a slim 50 per cent. So it’s not a good idea if you ever fancy spawning a second version of yourself. Other options than snipping your tubes are on the way.

Aaron Hamblin, Executive Director of the Male Contraception Initiative told The Tab: “There’s a host of male contraceptives under development.

“All drugs and medical devices go through animal testing, toxicity screening, and progressively larger clinical trials in humans.

“With some methods that are further along—Vasalgel (the polymer injection) and Gendarussa (pill)—there haven’t been any red flags.

“As they advance in their clinical trials, we can gain more and more confidence in their safety.”

Gendarussa works by taking a quick pill, and is expected to prevent sperm’s ability to fertilise an egg. It’s currently being tested in India. Closer to home is the “Clean Sheets Pill”, under development in London. It allows you to orgasm while stopping any ejaculation, not unlike the Vasalgel injection but without the sharp objects.

Why is the male pill taking so long?

Austrian-American scientist Carl Djerassi, the man dubbed the father of the female Pill, said last year that drug companies could easily develop male contraception – the issue is a lack of popularity and willingness.

Another part of the hold up is because there’s no current hormonal pill just as there is for women. But some researchers are searching for a way to block testosterone.

Leading the way for male pills is John Herr at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health. Last month they published their findings in the Biology of Reproduction.

He said: “Understanding at the molecular level exactly how the sperm is able to bind with and enter the egg opens opportunities to identify molecules that can disrupt or block the fertilisation event.”

A protein called ESP1 is thought to stabilise the area where sperm egg fusion is happening – meaning it could serve as the main target for male contraception. But it could be a while before they make any real breakthrough.

He said: “We don’t know enough yet about the protein-protein interactions here to be able to come up with a defined male contraceptive strategy so it’s pretty early in the process of seeing where a small molecule drug might interdict these interactions.

“We need to figure out the other partner proteins with which ESP1 is interacting,”

Why are condoms still a thing?

In the early 1700s condoms used to be made out of animal intestines, but in the 1920s latex changed everything. And now our sex lives look set to be rocked again by a more permanent way for boys to seize control of bedroom antics consequences.

Fighting the case for a wider range of male contraception, expert Aaron Hamblin said: “The main problem with condoms is their poor effectiveness in real-world use where they’re not always used correctly or consistently.

“Condoms are particularly bad at long-term pregnancy prevention.”

durex

If you’re going to play the field, always wear a shield

What’s more, you can’t always trust Johnny to keep you protected. Thousands of fake condoms are believed to be at large across the UK. They’re apparently made from cheaper materials and feared to be more likely to split. But undeniably the biggest upside to condoms are that they prevent the spread of STIs, something none of the current proposed other methods can do.

Aaron added: “Most methods under development don’t address the transfer of seminal fluid.

“Even the clean sheets pill – designed to prevent ejaculation—doesn’t protect against all fluid transfer or skin-to-skin transmission.

“If there’s a risk of STI’s, guys should still use condoms regardless of whether other methods are available.

Matthew Hodson, Chief Executive of the Gay Men’s Health Charity (GMHC) agrees.

He told The Tab: “The big advantage of an injectable contraceptive for men is that, if it proves effective, it means men will be able to control their own reproductive powers, without having to use condoms.

“The big downside, of course, is that condoms do so much more than just prevent pregnancy. If you chuck out the condoms then you’re much more likely to contract a whole range of STIs, including gonorrhoea, syphilis, herpes, chlamydia and, of course, HIV.”

Sexual health charity FPA were more blunt on why we should keep using the rubber.

A spokesman told The Tab: “A new male contraceptive pill or injection will not change the situation we already have.

“Barrier methods (male or female condoms, and dental dams for oral sex), are the only methods which can protect against sexually transmitted infections.”

Are there any dangers?

To be blunt, we don’t yet know. Most developers appear to be staying clear of the testosterone route and aren’t dabbling with our precious hormone levels – one of the main problems among users of female contraception.

But scientists are discovering new dangers all the time, with some versions of the pill increasing the risk of blood clots by up to four times.

pill

The female pill can have some dangerous side effects

Experts are saying it may be a better time than ever for guys to start taking the initiative.

Jason Warriner, Clinical Director at Marie Stopes UK, said: “The more options we have for preventing unplanned pregnancy, the better. However, we should be cautious about approaching contraception in terms of ‘male’ or ‘female’.

“Contraception is something that benefits both parties, which is why we recommend couples take some time to discuss the best option for them early in their relationship. Research into new methods is interesting, but an injection or pill for men is likely to be some way off.”

At least with a condom, both lovers getting down to it know there’s a stretched out piece of protection down below. Will it be all too easy for either to party to just claim they’re on the pill or they’ve had the ball jab?

What is currently the safest method of contraception?

Semi-permanent male contraception is at least three years off, and most of us probably hope to have sex at some point in the meantime.

For girls, expert Aaron reckons the implant is the way to go. He said: “Its annual pregnancy rate is one in 2,000. These are very safe methods, but some women dislike hormonal side effects or have pain from intrauterine devices.”

For the boys, things don’t look so good.

Aaron said: “Unfortunately, we’re in a place where getting a vasectomy and sperm banking is the safest and most effective approach for men.

“That’s a sad place, which is why there’s a disproportionate burden on women for handling contraception. This needs to change.”

Sexual Health Charity FPA were a lot less pessimistic. A spokesman said: “All of the methods currently available to use in the UK at the moment are safe to use and have a high level of effectiveness, if they are used correctly and according to the instructions.”

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