Parenting is hard. I know as a 20-year-old college student that I am not ready to become a parent, even if I do want kids of my own someday. Since I am a sexually active college student, birth control is incredibly important to me so that I do not bring a child into this world before I’m equipped to raise it. I’ve become interested in birth control methods beyond just condoms and “the pill.” In my research, I stumbled upon the acronym RISUG and had no idea what it was. A quick Google search later, my jaw dropped.
RISUG, or Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance, is a male birth control method that has been in development since the 1970s. Professor Sujoy K. Guha from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India had proposed the use of a polymer, styrene maleic anhydride (SMA), to be used in birth control. The SMA polymer is dissolved in dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and then injected into the vas deferens. A scalpel is not required for this non-invasive, one-time procedure. And as the name implies, if a person decides they suddenly want to reverse this procedure, it can be done with another simple injection of baking soda or additional DMSO, which flushes it out of the person’s system. This method of reversing birth control has been shown to work in animal trials but has not yet been clinically tested in humans.
This birth control method effectively blocks any sperm from passing through this barrier in the vas deferens before being released and has been shown to cause azoospermia, or the absence of sperm in ejaculate, as early as four weeks post-injection in clinical trials. Any remaining sperm in ejaculate exhibits severe oligospermia, meaning that the concentration of sperm that is present and can move is very low and likely has structural damage which prevents it from fertilizing an egg. No changes in volume, ejaculation time, color, consistency or pH were noted for subjects.
What this means is that RISUG is a one-time injection that can have a 99 percent efficacy rate within six months of injection. While there might be some initial discomfort from the injection, that would quickly subside, and the single injection can last 10+ years with no adverse side effects. It’s cheap to produce and easy to administer.
So why is it not available? You might be able to guess.
Back in 2000, a study was conducted that surveyed men from around the world to see if they would be willing to use a male birth control method. Most men (44/83 percent) said they would definitely/probably take a male hormonal birth control pill. However, RISUG is too inexpensive to make a sizable profit. So, despite male birth control being popular with most men, big pharmaceutical companies do not want to invest in it. Not only that, but this one-time solution to birth control would undoubtedly drastically reduce yearly profits from condom and birth control pill sales. Condoms would still be the most effective way to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but the pill would likely become way less popular because of its side effects.
The Indian government is currently the leading organization striving to bring this science to the market. And even with big pharma looking the other way, the Parsemus Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental organization in America, has been conducting animal clinical trials in the US. They’re calling their product VASALGEL™. Contraline, another US company, is also developing a product called ADAM™ which uses similar technology.
Male birth control is still a work-in-progress, but we need to talk more about it. This method can be life changing, not only for the millions of people who want alternatives to the pill, but as an affordable option for millions more in developing countries that have little-to-no access to contraceptives. The technology that’s coming forward can be revolutionary for everyone. If any part of this technology is brushed under the rug or is exploited to make a quick buck, it would prove once again how unequipped our system is to solve a popular problem that would help the world. Let’s talk about male birth control. Please.
Cameron Coffey is a member of the Class of 2024.