On January 18th, a prank show for Channel Four exhibited a male contraceptive stall on campus just outside the Students Union Building. On display were different types of male contraception some real and some ridiculously fabricated.
The more plausible contraceptive devices shown were condoms rolled onto dildos and a jar filled with neon-orange ‘male contraceptive pills’.
Some of the more humorous and far-fetched devices shown included a plastic switch, that was said to be inserted, under the skin, around the vas deferens, the tube that transports sperm from the testicles to the penis. Participants were told NASA was producing the device and that men could get the procedure done and be able to just reach down, feel for the switch under the skin and simply “switch off” their seamen flow at will. Another device shown was a slim, jelly butt plug that participants were told could be inserted eight inches up their anal canal twenty-four hours before sex dissolving to prevent conception. The final device shown was a miniature belt, displayed tightened around the testicles of a plastic model which was said to restrict the flow of seamen and prevent male fertility.
As the show is still in its filming stage, details are vague but the Assistant Camera Operator was able to disclose “It’s a comedy prank show for Channel Four. It’s highlighting the disparity between men and women. We’re doing contraception today, we did a wage gap yesterday and all that kind of stuff. It’s for the 100th anniversary of the suffragettes and will be on in early February. We’ve been filming for three weeks. We were outside Farringdon station yesterday and Monday we were in Shepard’s Bush.”
The pranks victims were mainly men as they would be the hypothetical users of the male contraceptive devices. However, females were participants of the prank too.
Georgia Mcglasson, a female biomedical scientist included in the prank said “I guess there were a few silly ones [contraceptive devices] that I can’t really believe I thought were real. The belt one that ties around the testicles was probably the silliest in my opinion.”
She continued “I don’t think it [the prank] was targeting men in a way that intended to make them feel attacked or anything like that. I think it was about trying to make men think about male contraceptives and bring it to their attention because they don’t have to think about contraception beyond wearing a condom. I think they [Channel Four] were trying to make a point about shifting some of the focus off of women when it comes to contraception. In my opinion both men and women should be in favour of male, and female, contraception as it allows more control over their own bodies.”
When asked if men should take more control over contraceptives Tilay Lawson, a male Politics and International Relations student replied “I definitely think that guys should take more responsibility for contraception. At the end of the day, both parties have a shared interest… of not getting someone pregnant! I did a little bit of research on the different methods of contraception available to both men and women, and I’m pretty shocked with the disparity. I also think that as a guy, after I did some reading on it, it’s pretty easy to forget about the side effects that birth control users can experience”.
He continued “I personally believe that a male pill with a success rate of at least 98%, which is the same as condoms, would be in the interest of a lot people”.
What male contraceptives are available right now?
Currently there are only two formal male contraceptives available to men: the condom and a vasectomy which sterilises men. Conversely there are twelve formal contraceptives available to women. Furthermore, out of the five contraceptives that are more than 99% effective the only option for men in that category is a vasectomy.
Current male contraceptives being researched
The male contraceptive pill has been much talked about in recent years but it does not exist. The male pill could exist by 2021 as researchers at Wolverhampton University believe they have found a compound that stops sperm from swimming and consequently prevents fertilisation but it is still very early days as the compound has yet to be tested in animal models.
A contraceptive that has been tested in humans is the male jab. Trialled by the World Health Organisation it was found to be 96% effective in the 320 men tested. Yet, side effects such as depression, mood disorders, muscle pain and acne have prevented the jab from progressing towards public availability.
Further research avenues are “plugging” the vas deferens, the tube that transports sperm from the testicles to the penis, with a semi-permanent filter to remove sperm or injections of a drug into the vas deferens that would kill sperm flowing towards the ejaculatory ducts.
So, it seems that the buzz of a prank show on campus, however amusing, might be all that is needed to get a conversation about male contraceptives started and although men, understandingly, may not be willing to inset a “NASA” device eight inches up their rectum they might begin to think about the discrepancy between the sexes and may even be appalled to find out they have only two options.