It’s said you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
The same might be true when it comes to men and birth control.
A new form of male birth control — an injectable gel that blocks sperm flow — has cleared its latest round of clinical trials.
Vasalgel, an experimental contraceptive developed by researchers at the Parsemus Foundation, was found to be a safe and successful form of birth control in male monkeys.
Researchers published their findings in Basic and Clinical Andrology.
Researchers believe that the gel injection will be more easily reversible than a vasectomy.
Experts and advocacy groups welcome new methods of family planning, but they say there are more hurdles to clear — both scientific and cultural — before Vasalgel or other forms of male contraceptives are widely embraced.
A survey of Healthline readers indicates the resistance of men to birth control may be quite real.
A crucial function
Just about any couple can attest to the importance of birth control.
And while modern couples have several options — whether condoms, vasectomy, or the female birth control pill — it’s always good to have other alternatives.
Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, outlined in an email to Healthline some of the reasons it’s important to have options.
“It’s important to note that birth control methods are not one-size-fits-all, so a method that’s perfect for one person may not be right for another,” she wrote. “In addition to health and the likelihood of side effects, some of the most common factors that people consider when weighing birth control methods are effectiveness at preventing pregnancy, ease of use, future childbearing plans, cost, privacy, and partner acceptance. Age and the permanence of the method are also factors to consider.“
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Association for Women (NOW), says the development of male contraceptives is great news.
“I think the more that people are able to control their own bodies, the better off we are,” she told Healthline. “Male birth control doesn’t mean that women won’t be utilizing birth control. Clearly, women will continue to use birth control because every woman has the right to decide for herself when she will have children, if ever. But what’s good, I think, about the development of male birth control is that men should have control over their own bodies.”
McDonald-Mosley says the research and development of male contraceptives should “absolutely” be a public health priority.
“It would provide couples with more options for preventing unintended pregnancies,” she said. “Providing men with better and greater contraceptive options would also enable men to play a more active role in the mutual planning and pregnancy and the prevention of unintended pregnancies — a role that Planned Parenthood greatly encourages and supports.”
One of the biggest question marks surrounding the development of male contraceptives is whether or not men will actually embrace the new methods.
“In order to understand the likelihood of whether or not men will use contraceptives, you have to understand that probably the most unfair aspect of human evolution is that women evolved in a way that makes sex a much higher cost,” Dr. Wendy Walsh, a relationship expert, told Healthline. “Because of their unique biology, women are much more susceptible to contracting an STI, much more susceptible to bonding and falling in love with a jerk because women’s bodies emit oxytocin, the bonding hormone, during orgasm. And, of course, women are much more likely to contract an 18-year case of parenthood because our culture is not one where men are doing the bulk of the child care.”
A 2015 Telegraph poll showed that slightly more than half of men surveyed would definitely take a male birth control pill if it became widely available, while about a quarter said they weren’t sure, and another quarter said they wouldn’t.
In an online survey that 570 Healthline readers answered, 34 percent of men said they’d be willing to get an injection that blocks the flow of sperm for several months while 66 percent said they wouldn’t.
When asked if they’d be willing to receive a series of shots that blocked sperm production, 27 percent said “Yes” while 73 percent said “No.”
Despite these survey results, some experts see change down the road.
Urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, co-director of the Personalized Urology & Robotics Clinic at South Lake Hospital in Clermont, Fla., in partnership with Orlando Health, says he’s hopeful that men will embrace new methods as they become available.
“I deal with men on a daily basis and there definitely is an interest,” he told Healthline. “But right now, I have very little to offer. I can tell them to use a condom or have a vasectomy. But condoms have a 10 percent failure rate. Withdrawal, where they pull out, has a 20 percent failure rate. And with vasectomies, they get worried that they’ll want to have kids in the future. But if there is something out there, I think a lot of guys will do it — especially younger men. With the millennial generation becoming very tech savvy and proactive when it comes to overall health, I think guys, even knowing their female partner is on birth control, will get this as well, just to be doubly sure.”
Walsh also says she sees a generational shift happening.
“I think men are evolving, especially with the millennial generation,” she told Healthline. “I feel optimistic about the future, especially with the younger generation and the amount of child care that this generation of men is doing or thinking of doing. I feel optimistic that it’s changing, I really do.”
While Vasalgel shows promise, it’s just one of several proposed methods of male contraception.
A different injection method — this one involving hormones — was explored but halted because of unwanted side effects.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota are looking into the possibility of a non-hormonal birth control pill.
There’s also the future possibility of a literal on/off switch implanted under the skin.
Brahmbhatt says he thinks the pill is still years away from becoming viable.
“I would say it’s decades away from becoming a reality,” he said. “Right now it’s just a concept, and they haven’t really done any studies on the actual switch part, or how they’re going to be putting it inside humans.”
Healthline readers seem a bit reluctant about this option at the moment.
In the online survey, 31 percent of respondents said they would be willing to take a daily pill to stop sperm production while 69 percent said they wouldn’t.
When asked if a risk of side effects, such as acne or depression were involved, 61 percent said they’d be less likely to try this birth control option.
Tough times ahead
The future of male contraceptives is fraught with both medical and cultural challenges, the future of family planning in general seems poised to face significant political problems.
“We know the transformative effect birth control has on people’s lives. We see it every day in our patients and supporters,” wrote McDonald-Mosley of Planned Parenthood’s mission. “There’s a lot to celebrate around birth control: the ability to plan, prevent, and space pregnancies is directly linked to benefits to women, men, children, and society, including more educational and economic opportunities, healthier babies, and more stable families. It can also enhance people’s sex lives, helping them feel less stressed about getting pregnant.”
Despite the benefits that contraceptives provide, there’s a battle looming between groups like Planned Parenthood and the newly inaugurated administration of President Donald Trump.
“On reproductive rights, we know that the administration is going to try to systematically block people from access to basic reproductive healthcare,” O’Neill said. “The defunding of Planned Parenthood is actually a bit of a smokescreen for defunding Title X family planning clinics generally. They’re not just going after Planned Parenthood — if they did, that would be unconstitutional. The only way to do it constitutionally is to cut off all funding for federal family planning clinic programs. Of course, that will be devastating.”