Every once in a while, a news story pops up about some new male birth control that’s in the works, and I always think the same thing: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Although we get an occasional tease in the media, birth control has always largely been the domain of women. Sure, vasectomies have been around for a long time now, but when it comes to reversible birth control men have condoms, withdrawal, and…what else? Let’s do a quick run down of male birth control options, the current and the (allegedly) upcoming.
Condoms. You know how these work; if you don’t, we’ve covered it here on the Feronia Project.
- Pros: Up to 98% effective when used correctly every time. Easily available and simple to use, and you can get them for free at the Health Department and Planned Parenthood. Try using them with some water-based lubricant (not nonoxynol-9, which can cause irritation which may increase the chance of getting an STI) and spermicide.
- Cons: feels unnatural to some people, may decrease sensation or cause allergies in the latex-sensitive (try polyurethane condoms!), and you have to interrupt foreplay to put them on.
- Biggest bonus: Condoms are the only method on this list which protect both partners from sexually transmitted infections.
Withdrawal. Also known as the pull out method. I’m super biased against this method for three reasons which we’ll discuss.
- Pros: It’s available to everyone with a willing partner, free, and doesn’t require health insurance or seeing a doctor.
- Cons: It’s only 73-94 % effective, and here’s the catch: you have to do it right (that’s what she said! Sorry). Men have to have a lot of self-control and knowledge about their bodies, which takes experience and practice. Pre-seminal fluid, the fluid that comes out of the penis before the man ejaculates, can still contain sperm so pregnancy can still happen. Also, if the man ejaculates on the vulva (outside the vagina), pregnancy can still occur – sperm really can swim.
Here are my thoughts:
- 73% effective with typical use? When there are methods out there that are up to 99% effective? No thanks.
- Trust no one, that’s my motto. Even the most well-meaning man can forget, or get caught up and lose control, and hey, pre-seminal fluid is beyond their control anyway. Too risky.
- The plural of anecdote isn’t data, but I swear that I’ve seen so many positive pregnancy tests in my day by women who checked the “withdrawal” box on their birth control questionnaire. Scary. Still, I know it’s not easy for everyone to obtain other birth control methods for financial, time, or other personal reasons, so withdrawal may be your best option at times.
Vasectomy. Story time! I was on a first date with this guy, and he mentioned that he wanted to get a vasectomy soon and was just waiting for an appointment with his doctor. Instantly, music swelled and cartoon birds started flying through the air, and my eyes turned into hearts and sprung out of my head. (That really happened. We broke up, though.)
Vasectomies deserve their own post (which is coming soon!) because there are a lot of myths and misinformation surrounding them. I think the biggest barrier to a vasectomy is getting the man to agree because a lot of men think you’re cutting off their testicles or forcibly removing their manly essence or something. In reality, vasectomies are safe, quick, and easy. Ejaculation still occurs, but the vas deferens (the tube that carries sperm) is blocked so that there is no sperm in the seminal fluid. Sex still looks and feels totally normal. No organs are removed, hormones and sperm production continues; sexual pleasure and sexuality are not effected.
- Pros: Birth control that doesn’t interrupt sex and is nearly 100% effective and I don’t have to do anything – and it’s permanent? Sold. As you can tell, I love vasectomies.
- Cons: It’s permanent. Reversal surgery is expensive, complicated, and there’s no guarantee, so you need to be sure that it’s what you want.
(PS: Our local Planned Parenthood offers vasectomies; if you’re in Florida and interested in a vasectomy, check out our man Dr. Stein at his site).
RISUG. The most exciting up-and-comer. The hard-to-pronounce acronym stands for Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance and in the US is called Vasalgel. I’m not a fan of the names, but otherwise it sounds amazing.
The vas deferens is numbed with an anesthetic and then a polymer gel is injected into it and kills sperm – for up to 10 years. Then, when the man decides he’s ready to have kids, there’s another injection to get rid of the polymer and welcome back sperm. It’s been in trials for about 15 years in India, and starting trials this year in the US with hopes that it will be available in the United States by 2015. I’m really hoping this becomes available and catches on, because it sounds like it could be a revolutionary new family planning tool for men and women both.
Apparently there are other things potentially on the horizon, creams, implants, and pills, which I can’t find a lot of information on, individually. However, you can read this article on male birth control options on MSNBC and the men who are trying them out.
Here’s my question, though. Say we finally get reversible male birth control on the market – will men use it? Would women want them to?
For a lot of people, the answer is an obvious yes. Many men will be delighted at the chance to have more control over the decision of when to get pregnant. Women who have experienced bad side effects on hormonal birth control will be happy to let their men try it out so they can have a break. I think a lot of men may be suspicious and hesitant; men aren’t used to their sexuality being medicalized like women’s sexuality has. Plus, for some men, there may be psycho-social factors to take into account, given the cultural links between masculinity, power, the penis, testicles, virility, etc. For women, giving up control may feel too risky – if a guy misses his pill or his birth control otherwise fails, he’s not the one getting pregnant.
What do you all think? Would any of you try RISUG? Have you had experiences with condoms or vasectomies, good or bad? Dudes, would you take a birth control pill? Ladies, would you feel comfortable with your man being the one on the pill? Tell me about it.