Skip to Content

Male Birth Control Gel Inches Toward a Breakthrough

Despite a plethora of birth control options for women, men have typically had far fewer choices available to them.
February 7, 2017

Birth control for men pretty much boils down to two things: condoms and a vasectomy. But a new product called Vasalgel could offer an alternative. A successful test in monkeys suggests that it’s not far off from becoming a big breakthrough for an area of medicine that’s been lacking for years.

From hormone-based pills and injections to diaphragms, IUDs, and vaginal rings, contraception options for women are widespread. The reason so few options are available to men comes down to two factors.

The first is biological: preventing a single egg from reaching its destination once per month is easier than blocking the daily production of millions of sperm cells. Second, there simply isn’t much funding around for developing male birth control drugs.

As we wrote back in November, the World Health Organization did sponsor a trial of a hormonal injection for men that seemed to work. But the drug had serious side effects, and the trial was stopped. A similar drug tested in 1,045 men in China proved effective and was reversible, but the company that made it, Zhejiang Xian Ju Pharmaceutical, never brought it to market. An array of pills are also in development around the world, but none have yet made it to the pharmacy.

Vasalgel, made by the nonprofit Parsemus Foundation, is a polymer gel that is injected into the vas deferens, the sperm-carrying tube that is severed and cauterized in a vasectomy. The gel blocks sperm from making their way out of the testes.

So far, Vasalgel has been tested in a range of animals. In the latest results, published in the journal Basic and Clinical Andrology, 16 male rhesus monkeys were injected with the gel and returned to live alongside females. No pregnancies were found over the course of two years of monitoring, and side effects were limited to one misplaced injection that necessitated a vasectomy.

The trick now will be to prove that the procedure is reversible. A similar technique in trials in India, called RISUG, has shown itself to be reversible, but has struggled to sign up enough volunteers. Vasalgel's trials, meanwhile suggest it is effective at preventing pregnancies, but tests in large animals have yet to show it is easier to undo than a vasectomy.

(Read more: The Guardian, “Why We Still Don’t Have Birth Control Drugs for Men”)

Keep Reading

Most Popular

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.