When it comes to choosing contraceptives, there really isn’t much choice for men. And although condoms have come a long way since the tortoise shell and animal horn versions fashioned in ancient Japan, furthering the contraceptive crusade so that men and women can actually enjoy safe sex is still a work in progress.
And we’re closer than ever to getting alternative male contraceptives on the market. In a study published Monday in the science journal PNAS, researchers at UC Berkeley have revealed that they found all-natural compounds that could prevent pregnancy by effectively turning off your sperm’s ability to swim. Yes, science can now immobilize your little swimmers.
According to the research, two chemical compounds called pristimerin and lupeol prevented fertilization by blocking human sperm from whipping its tail and propelling itself toward and into a woman's egg. To explain the process in a more scientific manner, the two compounds are able to tightly bind with sperm’s ion channel, gumming it up and stopping the surge or progesterone that sperm need to travel to an egg and fertilize it. Both lupeol and pristimerin are able to paralyze the sperm and effectively stop pregnancy without needing to create a barrier.
“Because the molecule is specific to sperm, it seems a good bet that this could be a novel contraceptive that might lead to a male contraceptive pill without any of the side-effects so far seen in trials with hormone-jab contraceptives,” Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield says in a report from BBC.
And while the new compounds could lead us to a male birth control pill or injection sooner rather than later, it might also give way to better emergency contraceptives as well. Trials have shown that using lupeol and pristimerin are both more effective than other forms of emergency contraception that are currently on the market. According to study leader and biophysicist Polina Lishko, this method is 10 times more effective than Plan B — and less controversial since there is never a fertilized egg in the process of preventing a pregnancy.
The current study details successful experiments that tested the compounds on human sperm in the lab, so scientists can’t guarantee whether the same results will occur inside the human body. Currently the team is beginning trials in primates to measure the sperm-stopping effects in the body and to determine proper doses. Lishko says she expects to have those results later this year. Until then, get yourself a box of condoms.