JARED DE CANHA
New medical developments in male contraception will allow more freedom of choice for safe sex. The results from breakthrough studies will attempt to replace conventional methods, such as vasectomies or condoms, with methods that temporarily target areas of the male reproductive system without affecting male fertility. Perdeby takes a look at some of the contraceptive options that could be available in the near future.
The Bimek SLV spermatic duct valve
This patented switch, invented by German carpenter Clemens Bimek, is a device that is surgically implanted and attached to the vas deferens (or sperm) ducts of a man. The device, which its creators have referred to as being “as small as a gummy bear”, has a valve that can be operated with a switch through the skin of the scrotum. This process works similarly to a vasectomy, as the closed valve obstructs sperm cells and prevents them from reaching the seminal fluid, but is not as permanent or potentially as irreversible as a vasectomy is.
According to an article published by the Huffington Post at the beginning of 2016, Bimek reported to German magazine Spiegel that he had thought of the idea over 20 years ago and decided to file a patent in 2000. Bimek shared with Spiegel that despite its potential, his idea had not been wholeheartedly supported by the medical community. Bimek went on to say that many doctors had not taken him seriously. These sentiments were reiterated by Wolfgang Bühmann, spokesperson of the Professional Association of German Urologists, who told Spiegel that the procedure could cause scarring, which would prevent sperm from flowing even when the valve was open. Bühmann was also concerned that the valve could clog if not opened for a period of time.
According to Huffington Post, Bimek is eager to get the device and procedure approved as soon as possible in order to meet their goal of a final product being available in 2018, and looks set to implant 25 devices this year. Bimek has also appealed to investors and invited volunteers to take part in clinical trials.
Male birth control pill
Australian researchers seem to be making headway on a new male birth control pill that aims to temporarily sterilise men. After successful clinical trials on mice have revealed that the pill could temporarily render male mice infertile, the premise of this contraceptive, as reported by Discovery News, works by blocking the receptors in the epididymis where two key proteins are used to activate the motile tails of sperm cells. By blocking these receptors, the sperm cells are unable to swim and thus render a man temporarily sterile. Discovery News went on to say that researchers are hoping to transfer this technique into formulating a new male birth control pill after clinical trials on mice revealed no adverse effects on the fertility of the mice in the long run. This pill also avoids the physical and emotional side-effects of the hormonal method found in the pill women use, because this pill only targets a process in the body and not a hormone. It is hoped that these plans come to fruition in the near future.
Condoms of the future
In 2013, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation put out a challenge in the interest of public health for scientists to develop a better “next generation” of condoms aimed at removing the stigma that condoms diminish the pleasure of sex for men. In response to this, a team of Australian scientists at the University of Wollongong were one of 52 teams to receive a grant from the Foundation and have begun developing a series of condoms which utilise hydrogel materials as an alternative to latex. According to lead materials scientist Robert Gorkin, hydrogels are ideal for this task given their ultra-strong and flexible nature, as well as the fact that they can be engineered to have different properties.
If the research team is able to find application in hydrogel technology, condoms of the future could soon become self-lubricating, biodegradable, be more responsive to stimulation, and even able to deliver small doses of Viagra.
Male contraceptives as a tool to fight unwanted pregnancies
In an article published last year titled “Tuks pregnancy rates get knocked up”, Perdeby investigated the prevalence of student pregnancies at UP. According to the article, UP experienced an increase in pregnancies over the last few years that is visible in increased statistics from 2012 onwards. Teenage pregnancy has also been addressed in the media recently by Gauteng’s Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, at the provincial Education Summit in Centurion in September last year. SABC News reported that Lesufi said that the department had run out of ideas on how to deal with teenage pregnancy. Similar sentiments were echoed by a northern Kwa-Zulu Natal high school last year in October after more than 30 pupils had fallen pregnant, including 17 matric students.
Hopefully these new methods of contraception are not too far in the future, and will afford both sexes the opportunity to make choices that they are comfortable with and that are the best choices for their bodies.
Illustration: Emmanuel Makhado