Planned Parenthood
August 09, 2012 7:00 am

This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year-old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.

Lately I’ve received quite a few questions about options for male contraception. The current reality is that, besides condoms and abstinence, there aren’t a lot of options out there. So this week I’m venturing beyond my normal discussion of birth control and STD prevention—and delving into contraceptives that aren’t yet on the market (but hopefully will be soon!) and a bit of the cultural significance that they could have for all of us.

Of course, I always welcome your questions about all things pregnancy and STD related—feel free to email me at askelizabeth@pp-la.org.

I was wondering if you could elaborate on male contraception in your next post for HelloGiggles as my fiancé and I have been discussing it at length…we would like to discontinue using condoms.

As I mentioned, it’s basically condoms, abstinence, and vasectomy (which is not considered reversible) for the time being—but that could all change very soon.

RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance) is a technology that is undergoing evaluation in India. A clear polymer is injected into the vas deferens (the thin tubes that carry the sperm from the testicles). It coats the inside of the vas deferens and as the sperm pass through it, they are somehow rendered inactive. To reverse it, another injection is given that dissolves the polymer. If it works, it would basically be the male version of LARC: Long-Acting, Reversible Contraceptive.

It’s still in the early testing phases, and it’s not currently available outside of India. So far results have been promising; however this technology might still prove to have side- or long-term effects that would keep it off the market.

There are other potential male contraceptives on the horizon, and who knows what new and exciting ways men will be preventing pregnancy in the future.

Moving beyond the mechanics, how could reliable long term male contraception change our relationships, families and even our culture?

For women who have sex with men, there’s a lot of pressure in being primarily responsible for pregnancy prevention, since an unplanned pregnancy could change both people’s lives dramatically. One of the joys of being in a relationship is being able to rely on that other person—to pick up milk on the way home, to walk the dog, and, hopefully one day, to help prevent pregnancy.

Not only can this feel burdensome to women, but it’s also pretty disempowering to men when you think about it. One of my best friends has an alarm on his phone so he can text his girlfriend to remind her to take her pill. It’s great that he wants to be involved, but it must also be frustrating to think that the most you can do to support your partner is send a text message!

If male contraception does move beyond condoms, expectations would have to change on both sides. There have been many conversations in the media recently about women and motherhood, careers and priorities, but there’s little mention of men in any of it—which is fairly shocking when you consider that most of us don’t impregnate ourselves. We keep getting tripped up on these traditional ideas of what women are “supposed to do” in relationships and families. How could a larger role for men in family planning change all of this?

This is obviously a huge, complex question (a friend called this is a “PhD thesis question”). I’d love to know your thoughts—post them here or send them to me at AskElizabeth@pp-la.org.

(Image via Shutterstock).

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