If you were to do a Google search right now on ‘Birth Control’, the types of articles and resources you’ll find will be almost exclusively aimed at women or people with vaginas.
In my Google search (I am based in the UK), the NHS website will tell me some of the options: the combined pill, the diaphragm, the IUD, or the contraceptive injection. Other articles start by stating that birth control is to ‘prevent pregnancy’.
This may not seem biased at first, but the options the NHS has shared with me are aimed towards women or people with vaginas, and by stating ‘to prevent pregnancy’ insinuates that it helps to stop a woman from getting pregnant – as the harsh reality is that men won’t need to be put in a life and body altering position through unprotected sex.
People with penises can opt out at any point, but for people with vaginas it is a totally different story – we can choose to have a baby if we get pregnant, or we make the difficult decision to have an abortion and will probably have to deal with the uncomfortable and emotionally draining experience of doing so.
So, we, as women or people with vaginas, will continue to take pills altering our hormone balance, injecting ourselves with even more hormones, sticking a copper coil inside of our uteruses all to make sure that if we don’t want to get pregnant, we won’t.
But what about men, or people with penises, what do they do?!
The Condom: A Tried-and-True Male Contraceptive
The most well-known male contraceptive method is the condom, but research has shown some quite shocking stats on how much we actually use this method of contraception…
60% of survey respondents (both male and female) conducted by a non-profit organisation say they rarely or never use a condom. A further 50% have said they never used one! Some of the reasons for not using condoms included: ‘My partner didn’t insist we use one’, ‘I hate throwing them away’,and 16% of respondents said they would have used one if it ‘didn’t ruin the moment’!
Both men and women are guilty of not making the condom standard practice in the bedroom, when actually the benefit of it is two-fold – it is 98% effective for protecting against unwanted pregnancy, and also protects against STDs too.
So, there’s an elephant in the room, and that is: is there another option?
The male birth control pill
A recent study found that 1 in 3 men would want to use a male birth control pill, and this number is sure to rise with more research and more options for men to take control themselves and protect themselves and their sexual partners from unwanted pregnancy.
Just this week it has been confirmed that mice trials of the ‘male pill’ have been 99% effective, and may be available to the general public soon. There are of course real risks with taking a hormone pill – similar to the contraceptive pills women or people with vaginas take – including weight gain, and depression. It’s being worked on as we speak, and perhaps this could be an option some time in our near future!
Vasectomy: A Permanent Solution
This one is always a surgical procedure. It involves sealing the vas deferens, preventing sperm from mingling with ejaculated semen.
- Effectiveness: With over 99% success, a vasectomy is a reliable method. However, post-surgery sperm counts are crucial to confirm its effectiveness.
- Considering Reversibility: It’s possible, but not guaranteed. Always approach vasectomy as a lasting choice.
New innovations in the world of male contraceptives
Bimek SLV: The sperm switch
The Bimek SLV, often dubbed the “sperm switch,” is a Swiss invention that offers men a reversible contraceptive method by interrupting the flow of sperm through the vas deferens. Conceived by Clemens Bimek, this device can be manually activated or deactivated through the scrotum’s skin, allowing men to choose between fertility and contraception. Its design promises an advantage over traditional vasectomies due to its reversibility. However, the Bimek SLV has faced criticisms, including concerns over its implantation procedure, potential user error, and long-term effects. While it generated significant interest upon introduction, as of 2022, its widespread adoption remained uncertain, pending further clinical trials and research.
A Gel in the Vas Deferens
An innovative idea from India, known as the Risug method, emerged in the 1970s. Researchers inject a gel into a man’s vas deferens, which solidifies along the walls. As sperm pass through the gel, they’re damaged and rendered incapable of fertilizing eggs. Although Risug has undergone successful clinical trials in India, its release date remains uncertain. The gel can remain in the vas deferens for several years, but it can be dissolved using a special substance. This dissolution process is still under examination, with researchers estimating a minimum of ten years for effectiveness. A variation of the Risug method, called Vasalgel, is currently under testing in the U.S.
Inhibiting Sperm Production
Many researchers continue to prioritize the hormonal method. A contraceptive gel, which works similarly to a hormone injection used in a WHO study, has shown promise. This gel contains hormones that prevent sperm formation in the testicles. Men applied the gel daily to their chest and shoulders in a pilot study. After about three to four months, sperm counts dropped significantly, making the men virtually infertile. Dr. Stephanie Page from the University of Washington in Seattle noted the gel, tested for six months on men, had remarkably few side effects. In 2018, an ongoing international study involving 420 couples from seven countries began testing the gel as their only contraceptive for about twelve months.
What to choose?
On a final note, I’d like to express the importance of speaking to any sexual partner you have or will have in the future about their preferred method, so you’re able to find something that works best for you both. DON’T be afraid to ‘ruin the moment’ – we must normalise these discussions to protect our mental, physical, and sexual wellbeing. Tell your male friends and family members that there are options, and we need to encourage ourselves and others to be aware of them, use or practise them, and to share this with others.
Words by: Sophie Simmonds
Sophie Simmonds is the Client Engagement Lead at Matchable Volunteering – who support Impact Organisations & Non Profits to find skilled volunteers where they need it most. Sophie is currently volunteering with Omgyno to support with content creation.