A New Perspective on Sex and Contraceptives
In a small, whitewashed room in a two-story mud brick house lie a man and a woman in the throes of romantic passion. In her hand she holds a metal scalpel, while in his hand there is a tuna. It is 3000 B.C., and this couple is fashioning the earliest known condom made simply from the bladder of a fish.
Five thousand years ago, at the dawn of civilization, people had many of the same worries as we do today: they had to work, provide for their families and, not least of all, try to not get pregnant. While today we enjoy the luxuries of latex condoms and monthly pills, ancient peoples relied on more primitive methods such as penis sheaths made of animal intestines and fish bladders.
The homemade chemical spermicides and condoms made of vulcanized rubber that were popular hundreds of years ago were improvements, but not by much. And despite the apparent convenience of modern methods, from male and female condoms to pills and vaginal rings, these methods are far from perfect.
Condoms are only as protective as the latex they’re made from, and they may tear at the most inconvenient of times. And then there’s “the pill,” which — while certainly convenient — contains hormones that could cause serious, though rare, side effects such as blood clots, heart disease and death.
Current contraceptive measures come in a range of forms, each with their own strategy. Interestingly, apart from male condoms, these contraceptives have one important and troubling thing in common: they all target women.
Historically, this comes from a belief that pregnancy is entirely the woman’s burden. Perhaps this made more sense in a time when technological and societal limitations required men to hunt while women stayed home to cook, clean and care for their young. But now, as women are finally fighting for and gaining financial and social equality, our traditional views on pregnancy need to be reconsidered.
And that is exactly what the Parsemus Foundation is working to do by 2017. With their new product, christened Vasalgel, researchers are finally giving men the ability to take control of their own reproductive fates. No longer just a woman’s game, the future of contraceptives has the potential for dramatic changes in the way we think about sex.
But now, as women are finally fighting for and gaining financial and social equality, our traditional views on pregnancy need to be reconsidered
Rather than messing around with hormones, Vasalgel takes a new approach. By injecting a polymer into the vas deferens, or the tube that sperm swim through during ejaculation, researchers have been able to block this passageway and prevent promiscuous sperm from escaping. It has essentially the same effect of a vasectomy except it is temporary and reversible. A second injection can wash out the polymer, leaving the man’s vas deferens as good as new.
But Vasalgel is more than just another solution to the same problem. This male contraceptive has the potential to significantly improve the lives of both men and women. First, it would reduce the financial, mental and physical burden of the hormonal contraceptives that many women rely upon. In addition to weighing on women’s emotional stability and messing with hormonal balances that ought not be messed with, the monthly cost of the Pill, and other contraceptives, weighs on women’s wallets (at a cost of up to $50 per month.)
The cost of distributing Vasalgel, on the other hand, is surprisingly cheap. In fact, the Parsemus Foundation hopes to bring it to the market for less than the cost of a flat-screen television.
This incredibly cost-effective solution does have its weaknesses, however. Because our health care system is financed by wealthy pharmaceutical companies, Vasalgel supporters have already begun to see resistance from above. As the Parsemus Foundation has noted, given the choice between cost-effective, infrequent Vasalgel injections and expensive, monthly tablets, the pharmaceutical industry will undoubtedly choose to support the more profitable option.
Vasalgel may also have implications for government legislation of birth control. The idea that Viagra and vasectomies are provided for men, while large healthcare corporations have the power to deny female contraceptives, is something that has thrown many people for a loop. But with the introduction of this easy, painless and well-supported male contraceptive, everyone, political leaders included, will have to reconsider what it means to have sexual and reproductive freedom in the modern day.
The real elephant in the room, however, is whether or not men will be willing to spread their legs for a contraceptive injection when they could just leave it to their female counterparts to take a pill. But researchers hope that the long-term benefits of the procedure will outweigh the short-term costs. And even if not all men are excited about the idea, having the option will at least balance the scales of responsibility and give them the opportunity to have more control over their reproductive fate.
Despite these challenges, there may still be hope. Except, perhaps, from pharmaceutical companies, Vasalgel is likely to receive enthusiastic support from all sides. In addition to lifting some of the burden of unwanted pregnancy off women, this sperm-blocking contraceptive will give men the power to control their own fertility, something that will bring relief to both groups.
More importantly, by offering a male contraceptive option, we will begin a long-awaited dialogue between the sexes about pregnancy and sexual responsibility. From homemade condoms made of animal tissue to no condoms at all during the sexual revolution of the 60s, it has been a long time coming, but it is not over yet. It takes two to have sex and two to make a baby, so it’s about time that both of those two participate in the decision to prevent one.