Easy, reversible, 100 percent effective birth control is for men only
One of the best things we can do for the planet is stop putting new humans on it, which means promoting safe and effective birth control for people who want to keep their offspring levels between zero and “get that, would you, Deirdre.” But hormonal birth control comes with side effects like weight gain, mood swings, blood clots, and Rush Limbaugh. Luckily, there’s a birth control option that’s safe, quick, easy, reversible, and 100 percent effective for 10 years. But back off, ladies: For once in our lives, this birth control’s just for dudes.
Now, I know what you’re thinking — chemical castration! That sounds like a good idea in some cases (Rush Limbaugh), but I did say “reversible.” Instead, this procedure, called RISUG (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance), is more like a vasectomy by injection. Rather than snipping or cauterizing the vas deferens, as in a vasectomy, doctors inject it with a polymer gel. Here’s the crazy part: The gel’s not there to block the tube, but to actively destroy the sperm by RIPPING THEM APART through reverse polarity. (Imagine trying to travel down a hallway with powerful magnets on the floor and ceiling, and also your skin is full of metal.)
The procedure takes 15 minutes with local anaesthesia (if you want to see what it looks like, Wired has a video, but fair warning: It includes balls). RISUG also is much easier to reverse than the technically-reversible vasectomy — you don’t have to reconnect the vas deferens, just flush it out with a baking soda solution.
So what’s the problem? There haven’t been clinical trials in the U.S. yet, just in India, and some of those have faced bureaucratic hurdles. RISUG is the brainchild of one scientist, Sujoy Guha, who doesn’t have the financial backing of large research institutions or pharmaceutical companies (though he did win a $100,000 Gates Foundation grant to develop a variant of RISUG — for women. Go figure). Clinical trials and approval processes take forever — Grist wrote about RISUG eight years ago, and nothing much has changed since then. And even if the procedure gets approved here (the FDA has approved the polymer under the name Vasalgel), nobody’s sure men will go for it. There’s a strong “don’t mess with my balls” thing that needs to be overcome, not to mention the weird cultural associations with birth control that have been increasingly evident lately — if birth control is for slutty ladies, how the hell do we interpret birth control for men?
Still, slowing population growth is of critical importance, so maybe some green-minded fellows will step up. If you’re one of them, or a lady who’s fed up with existing birth control options, you can fill out a petition with the Male Contraceptive Information Project. Bonus: You get to learn about the other innovative ideas out there, such as hot baths, “semen-free orgasm” pills, and magical underwear!
Get Grist in your inbox