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Time for a second sexual revolution?


Kate Townshend
WVoN co-editor 

A new contraceptive that lasts for as long as ten years, is easily reversible and has almost no side effects might sound too good to be true.

But a procedure that promises all of this and more may well be on the market in India within the next two years – and it could hit the rest of the world soon after.

Side effect free contraception is an exciting development in itself, but the even bigger news? This particular contraceptive method is aimed at men.

The RISUG procedure (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance) which is in late stage clinical trials in India, works via injection.

A harmless gel coats the walls of the ducts that carry sperm from the penis, killing the sperm as they leave the man’s body. And if he changes his mind an additional injection will simply flush the gel away, restoring his fertility.

Techcitement reports that in 15 years of trials the method has a 100 per cent success rate. It is more convenient than condoms, less serious than vasectomy and involves none of the inevitable side effects inherent in hormone based contraception.

In early 2010, a small foundation that grew out of the Male Contraception Information Project purchased rights to begin studying RISUG in the US with the aim of developing it for the rest of the world. Clinical trials began early this year.

So assuming RISUG ( or vasalgel to give it its US monniker) is as good as it sounds, what might this mean on a wider level?

A truly effective method of contraception for men could help to address any lingering sense that birth control is somehow still women’s business.

But are men really to blame for not taking their fair share of responsibility? Not according to the Family Planning Association (FPA).

It commissioned a survey in 2008 which revealed that a startling (and encouraging) 94% of men consider contraception to be of equal relevance to them.

Rebbecca Findlay, press and campaigns manager for the FPA believes that in the past the problem has been a biological one:

“Men want to take control of their sexuality in the same way that women do, but it’s been a longer journey to bring them onto an even footing. We do them a disservice when we assume they won’t want to take responsibility.”

The even better news is that all of this might well be a bit of a shot in the eye for pharmaceutical companies more focused on profit than people.

RISUG is the pet project of Indian scientist  Sujoy Guha, who has spent the past 30 years fighting to establish its worth according to Wired.

Ironically the simplicity and relative cheapness that make it so revolutionary also partly explain why the bigger companies are sceptical – it doesn’t offer huge opportunities for money-making.

The bottom line is that contraception is about more than the science that makes it work.

Contraception saves lives, reduces the number of unwanted children in the world and gives families in deprived areas a chance to keep themselves out of further poverty.

It also makes people free-er. If RISUG delivers, men will soon have another option for taking responsibility for their own sexuality; and that can only be a good thing for women too.

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