The prospect of effective male contraceptives has been discussed for decades, though a successful product has yet to hit the market. Despite news of a hormonal birth control shot for men making headlines late last year, the study was curtailed after subjects reported experiencing “too many side effects” during the initial trials. But now, there’s another option on the rise—one that could finally provide an answer to years of research on long-lasting, reversible birth control for men.
Last week, Vasalgel, a contraceptive gel dubbed the “IUD for men,” successfully passed medical trials in a group of 16 male rhesus monkeys. Currently being tested in the U.S. by the Parsemus Foundation, a California-based company, Vasalgel works by injecting a polymer into the vas deferens, or sperm-carrying tubes located between the testicles and penis.
The gel blocks sperm as they are released, and it’s considered by researchers to be a long-lasting reversible contraceptive that could provide men with a simpler alternative to a vasectomy.
Prior to this round of trials, Vasalgel was shown to work effectively in rabbits, both in terms of preventing contraception and the reversibility of the gel. Yet the latest monkey trials, according to researchers, are far more encouraging, given the fact that these primates are much closer relatives to humans. “The fact that these males don’t have offspring is a real indicator that it’s effective,” Catherine VandeVoort, a primate reproduction researcher at the University of California at Davis, said about the study in a recent interview with Smithsonian.
But Vasalgel is unlikely to hit the shelves anytime soon.
The next challenge for researchers will be to show the injection is reversible in primates, and VandeVoort admits that testing in humans remains “a few years” away. Within that time, VandeVoort is planning to raise funds and receive approval to conduct reversibility studies among monkeys, hopefully bringing us one step closer to an option that will help both women and men share equal responsibility when it comes to preventing conception.