Male Birth Control, From India

‘I don’t want to be pregnant’ artwork by Nazli.G.

Birth control is usually seen as the woman’s responsibility, presumably because they get stuck with the birth. In a better world, however, there would be more responsibility on the male, and options would go beyond condoms. A male pill, however, is elusive. Now, however, Indian scientists have found something simple and revolutionary that may work. It’s called RISUG (Reversible Inhibition Of Sperm Under Guidance), and no it doesn’t involve bureacracy in your tubes.

Men have a lot of sperm. Hence it’s difficult to inhibit all of them, short of putting a plastic cap over the exit. Women have only one egg per month, so inhibiting that is easier. Hence you get a female pill and not a male one.

With a 15 minute (admitedly scary sounding) surgical procedure, however, it is possible to inhibit male sperm, seemingly effectively. It’s some rather novel science.

The procedure called RISUG in India (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance) takes about 15 minutes with a doctor, is effective after about three days, and lasts for 10 or more years. A doctor applies some local anesthetic, makes a small pinhole in the base of the scrotum, reaches in with a pair of very thin forceps, and pulls out the small white vas deferens tube. Then, the doctor injects the polymer gel (called Vasalgel here in the US), pushes the vas deferens back inside, repeats the process for the other vas deferens, puts a Band-Aid over the small hole, and the man is on his way. If this all sounds incredibly simple and inexpensive, that’s because it is. The chemicals themselves cost less than the syringe used to administer them. But the science of what happens next is the really fascinating part.

The two common chemicals — styrene maleic anhydride and dimethyl sulfoxide — form a polymer that thickens over the next 72 hours, much like a pliable epoxy, but the purpose of these chemicals isn’t to harden and block the vas deferens. Instead, the polymer lines the wall of the vas deferens and allows sperm to flow freely down the middle (this prevents any pressure buildup),  and because of the polymer’s pattern of negative/positive polarization, the sperm are torn apart through the polyelectrolytic effect. On a molecular level, it’s what supervillains envision will happen when they stick the good guy between two huge magnets and flip the switch. (Techcitement)

India has had some dubious experiments with birth control, including Sanjay Gandhi’s disastrous forays into compulsory sterilization. This, however, seems to be a leading effort, one which isn’t funded in the US. The Gates Foundation has given $100,000 grant, but paradoxically allocated it to adapt the technology for women’s fallopian tubes. Which kinda defeats the purpose.

The point is that men need to start taking more responsibility for birth control, beyond legislating what women can and cannot do.

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2012-04-18 10:44:15

“The point is that men need to start taking more responsibility for birth control, beyond legislating what women can and cannot do”. Thank you for saying that.

the way of the dodo
2012-04-18 12:19:03

Isn’t this re-inventing the wheel.

2012-04-19 09:50:50

No, this is a temporary reversible procedure.

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