30 Facts About Male Birth Control

The first condoms date back to 1200 BC and weren't used for sex. They were invented to protect men in sandstorms.

The history of male birth control is longer, more interesting, and less successful than you might expect. Since the ancient Egyptians, men have been trying to figure out the best way to keep from spreading their seed — and from sheepskin condoms to hormonal injections, there isn’t much that everyday guys and history’s most qualified reproductive scientists haven’t tried. “We already have ‘birth control’ in terms of condoms, vasectomy, and abstinence,” says Allan Pacey, professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield School of Medicine and Biomedical Science. “However, the problem is that this range of solutions does not suit everyone’s taste and lifestyle choices.”

That’s why the race to develop more advanced hormonal methods of male contraception is on. And after some big scientific discoveries this year, we’re closer than ever. With that in mind, we compiled 30 of the craziest facts about the history, research, and development of male birth control.

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  1. The first “no-scalpel” vasectomy was conducted in China in 1974 and is still the preferred method to date.
  2. According to a United Nations study on contraceptive use conducted in 2015 , only 21 percent of men relied on a form of male birth control. That number included men who use the “withdrawal method,” also known as “pulling out.”
  3. According to a recent poll taken by the Male Contraceptive Initiative, 50 percent of men in the United States are ready for a new version of male contraceptive.
  4. In 2012, 40 percent of all pregnancies worldwide were unintended, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
  5. The condom dates back to 1200 B.C., when men of high social status would wear sheepskin condoms as high-class underwear. They served as protection from sandstorms, not unwanted pregnancies.
  6. Italian anatomist Gabriello Fallopio is the first scientist credited with creating a condom specifically for sex. In the early 1500s, he constructed a linen condom that covered the head of the penis and was tied around the shaft with a ribbon. The linen was soaked in a chemical meant to prevent STDs (namely, syphilis), but, ironically, also acted as a spermicide.
  7. Tortoiseshell condoms (yes, condoms made out of very thin, carved turtle shells) were popular in ancient Japan. Ouch.
  8. Silk paper condoms slicked with oil were commonly used in ancient China.
  9. Since the first linen condom was invented, other materials have burst onto the scene to improve both comfort and function. Animal intestines, rubber, latex, and polyurethane have all been used since the early 1700s.
  10. The male condom hasn’t been changed or updated since 1994, when polyurethane was introduced.
  11. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 46 percent of unmarried, sexually-active males between the ages of 15 and 44 use condoms.
  12. In 2013, the Gates Foundation launched the “Grand Challenge” to develop “a next-generation condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure.”
  13. Of the 11 concepts that were developed and funded through the Gates Foundation challenge, none are currently available on the market, nearly five years later.
  14. Researchers and developers blame extensive (and expensive) FDA regulations for a lack of condom innovation over the past 30 years. The aforementioned polyurethane condom released in 1994 reportedly took three years and several million dollars to get FDA approval.
  15. According to the Mayo Clinic, a vasectomy performed within the last three years has a 95 percent chance of being successfully reversed. However, if a man has waited more than 15 years to have his vasectomy reversed, his odds of a successful reversal drop to 70 percent.
  16. The first vasectomy was conducted in 1897 and was seen as a more humane alternative to castration.
  17. Four promising methods that allow men to use hormonal methods — similar to the pill or IUDs for women — as a contraceptive have been developed since 2013: Vasalgel, Eppin, JQ1, the “clean sheets pill”, and Gendarussa.
  18. In the 1950s, Sterling Drug scientists created the compound WIN 18, 446 to treat parasitic infections. During animal testing, they found that the compound created infertility and thought they had stumbled upon the first male birth control. When human trials began, however, the scientists discovered that WIN 18, 446 mixed with alcohol created dangerous side effects in patients.
  19. Vasalgel was created by scientists from India, led by the biomedical engineer Sujoy Guha at the Indian Institute of Technology. It’s a gel that’s injected into the scrotum and stops sperm from getting out during sex. Testing has shown Vasalgel to be highly effective at preventing pregnancy in monkeys and rabbits.
  20. Much like an IUD for women, when a man is ready to reverse Vasalgel’s contraceptive superpowers, he can simply get another injection to dissolve the gel in the scrotum.
  21. There are currently no scheduled human clinical trials for Vasagel.
  22. Eppin is the equivalent of the pill for men and was greenlighted for development after a study published earlier this year found that certain protein compounds can impede sperm’s ability to swim.
  23. JQ1, a compound initially studied to cure cancer, was also found to disrupt the production and motility of sperm. An article published last year in MIT Tech Review, however, notes that it’s not yet been tested in humans — a common story for potential male contraceptive medications.
  24. In 2016, the “clean sheets pill” came onto the scene after scientists discovered compounds that can prevent semen from being ejaculated. With this form of contraceptive, men would take a pill a few hours before intercourse to keep targeted muscles from pushing the semen out, at least in theory. The man can still have an orgasm but, as the name suggests, there’s no ejaculate fluid.
  25. Progress with the clean sheets pill, JQ1, Eppin, and Vasalgel have all been stalled due to lack of funding from major pharmaceutical companies.
  26. The most promising male contraceptive currently on the scene is Gendarussa — which is being developed under wraps in Indonesia. It prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg in a way that remains unclear. The Indonesian team that developed the product has not published results from its Phase I human trials.
  27. Gendarussa has, however, received clearance from the Indonesian equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin Phase II trials.
  28. The only international male contraceptive human clinical is set to begin in 2018. It will test the male birth control gel, the one contraceptive scientists believe has the most potential to inhibit sperm while maintaining healthy levels of testosterone in users.
  29. This topical gel is applied to the shoulders of male users once a day and is designed to inhibit all production of sperm.
  30. Over 400 couples from around the world are currently being recruited for the new clinical trial, according to Scientific American.

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