Opinion: The New Frontier of Birth Control

The Parsemus Foundation, a private organization that aims to advance “neglected medical research,” is currently developing an innovative, hormone-free male birth control method with the goal of finally providing men an opportunity to physically take part in family planning.

Vasalgel, an injection that blocks the vas deferens, preventing the release of sperm for an extended period of time, is predicted to become available in 2017.

While the research surrounding Vasalgel is controversial for medical reasons, it has potential to give way to a new era in which pregnancy prevention is no longer primarily the responsibility of women, but is equally held by members of both sexes. The hope is the product will succeed at overcoming over a half-century’s worth of birth control related gender stereotyping.

When the FDA first approved the pill for contraceptive use in 1960, it undoubtedly revolutionized birth control, giving women the ability to reclaim power over their own bodies.

Since the pill’s invention, an arsenal of other female birth control products such as NuvaRing, female condoms and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) have been brought to the mainstream as well, providing women with a multitude of products to choose from to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Yet, despite all this innovation in female birth control, until now hardly any developments have surfaced for males. Women were barraged with endless options for how they could and should protect themselves from pregnancy, yet men seemed to be afforded no responsibility in the matter.

The dominance of female-oriented birth control methods, while enabling women to plan when they want to become pregnant, has created a cultural norm of women being responsible for protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancy and a stigma of males as the condom-evading impregnators that women need to protect themselves against.

This stereotype of sex and pregnancy prevention is not healthy or enjoyable for either men or women. It places an unreasonable amount of responsibility on women to subject themselves to various procedures and hormonal regimens that can have a multitude of adverse effects on the body.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Citrano / Flikr

Photo courtesy of Anthony Citrano / Flickr

On rare occasions, IUDs puncture the uterus and non-hormonal copper IUDs can result in intense cramping. Even the old-guard birth control pill can cause high blood pressure and an increased risk of cervical cancer.

More importantly, the lack of male birth control options excludes men from a conversion in which they undoubtedly deserve to take part. Whether a man is having casual sex or is in a committed relationship, it’s only common sense that he too should have a say in how birth control is being used.

At present, an overwhelming amount of responsibility rests on our shoulders, while men either remain oblivious or helpless to impact the choices being made.

Vasalgel, in theory, could be a powerful instrument in further equalizing the influence that women and men have on family planning. Unfortunately, it seems that the day when Vasalgel is weighed with equal consideration as the likes of IUDs and the pill lies in the distant future.

The 2017 date by which the Parsemus Foundation estimates the method will become available leaves them with plenty of time to iron out flaws in the medical procedure itself, but overcoming ideologies opposing the product will take much longer than two years.

Each year, more and more men join the workforce as nurses, or choose to work in the domestic sphere as stay-at-home dads, yet the stigma still remains that these occupations are feminine and unfit for men. A similar opinion about the traditional femininity of birth control could keep Vasalgel or any similar attempts at extending contraception to men from flourishing.

For the past 50 years women have been the only gender to use long-term birth control, and it has become just as much a part of our feminine identity as shaving and periods. We’ve subjected ourselves to trying every kind of implant, pill and injection under the sun, all the while maintaining the falsely cheery demeanor that is just another part of the hilariously inconvenient feminine routine.

Furthermore, this feminine routine, with its bevy of slightly dysfunctional products, is lucrative, especially for big pharmaceutical companies. The pill provides a reliable source of income for pill pushing companies, whereas a product like Vasalgel, which doesn’t have a demanding or pricy upkeep process, would not rake in nearly as much profit (the Foundation’s website acknowledges this as the reason as to why they have to finance the research largely on donations).

So while by all practical assessments, Vasalgel is the ideal solution to the birth control conundrum--it is non-hormonal, easily reversible and if used in conjunction with female birth control, would essentially eliminate any chance of unwanted pregnancy--the opposition it finds in the status quo of American gender roles and big pharmaceutical’s disinterest will take much longer to overcome than the mere invention of the product will achieve.