The lack of choice in men’s reproductive health care is a disservice to as well as a burden on women.
According to Planned Parenthood, men have five choices for birth control: outercourse, vasectomy, abstinence, and condoms. Women have at least twice as many options. Hormonal shots, pills, and uterine devices are commonly used by females, despite their deleterious consequences. Although male alternatives, such as the male pill, are in the works, they don’t seem to have much support due to testosterone and libido decrease.
It appears that male pills just aren’t going to cut it. And most men literally don’t want to cut it. There is an alternate to the vasectomy that is currently under review in the US—this method is called Vasalgel.
RISUG, as Vasalgel is known in India, was invented by Dr. Sujoy K Guha when he was asked to help quell the proliferation of the Indian population in the 1970’s. RISUG, Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance, has gone through rigorous animal trials, and is in Phase III clinical studies in India, with ample success so far. It is a non-toxic, non-hormonal gel polymer that chemically incapacitates sperm. It has a 99.6 percent success rate, with only one of 250 participants getting pregnant, which appears to be due to insertion error (or a promiscuous partner).
Dr. Guha envisions RISUG to withstand 10-15 years in a body—five more years than the longest lasting FDA approved Intra Uterine Device for women. It’s also reversible; Vasalgel studies in baboons have shown successful return to pre-RISUG sperm count in two months.
However, the insertion is not for the weak. The testes are anesthetized, an incision is made, and forceps are used to retrieve the vas deferens. Instead of cutting the tube that leads sperm from the testes to the urethra, like in a vasectomy, the gel polymer is inserted lengthwise into the ducts. The polymer molds to the inside of the vas deferens. This procedure is repeated on the other teste. Indian men who have had the procedure complained of transient swelling during the operation. To reverse it, a doctor uses a simple solvent to flush it out.
When asked about Vasalgel, UR students had mixed feelings. Senior Greg Matos commented, “it’s fucking hype.” Other male students were nervous about the idea of having procedures done on their sensitive body parts. Overall, they agreed that additional male contraceptives should be made available.
According to the Vasalgel site, Parsemus Foundation, Vasalgel is planning on spending the next six months creating batches for upcoming clinical studies. Despite animal proof that reversibility is possible, Vasalgel will currently be tested as a vasectomy alternative until there is additional research on reversibility in humans.