Male Birth Control

I complain about hormones being the go to mechanism for women’s birth control, but that isn’t half as dumb as hormonal male birth control.  Women at least do spend a majority of their time not able to conceive.  In fact, the number of ovulations a modern first world woman goes through is way higher than they would have in the ancestral environment.*  But men have to be seriously ill or starving to stop producing sperm (temporarily.  Obviously there’s some good options if you want to permanently lose the capacity).  Nonetheless, at least until a few years ago a lot of research into male birth control focused on hormones.

For years India has had what looks like a panacea of male birth control: cheap and easy to administer, completely reversible (although not quite as cheaply or easily as it is administered) , and no side effects.  RISUG works by injecting a polymer into the vans deferens (the tubes that funnel sperm out of the testes).  Sperm can still travel through the tube (which is important because completely blocked deferens tend to cause medical problems and become spontaneously unblocked), but their cell membranes are disrupted, rendering them incompetent to bond with the egg.  You could have a sperm count of 200 million/mL and still be completely infertile.

I’ve heard many people say that male birth control is dead on arrival, no man will want to take it and no woman will trust a man to.  These people are not talking to my male friends, every one of whom would give a kidney to get this technology.  My female friends’ tend to think that by the time they’re not using condoms with someone, they trust them to accurately report their birth control, and they will be just fine not perpetually feeling half pregnant, thank you very much.  The exception would be the women who can tolerate hormonal IUDs, whose attitude is more “do what you want I’m still going to enjoy not bleeding every month kthnxbai.”

It does slightly concern me that they’re not sure how RISUG actually works.  How did they discover it then?  Did they just keep injecting different plastics into monkey testicles until they found something that worked?  But no one is really sure how the copper IUD works either, and that doesn’t seem to bother anyone despite it having obvious painful side effects (compared to RISUG’s apparent zero side effects).

RISUG is being developed for the US under the brand name Vasalgel.  Interestingly, it’s not a big pharma company that’s doing it, but a non-profit dedicated to getting neglected treatments into practice.  This is pretty much the best possible solution under the current circumstances (where bringing treatments to market is very expensive).  They are currently taking donations, and I am seriously tempted to give them some.

*This is also true for menstruation.  The Pill was originally designed to give women false periods, and all the pain and health implications, to appease the Catholic church.  It didn’t work, and it took 35 years for someone to notice and suggest not doing that.

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