Opinion: Condom or Vasectomy? Why are those my only options for male contraceptives?

By Irvin Ibarra, Staff Reporter

Elias Gonzalez

Contraceptive accessibility and affordability is essential when looking for ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, and while there are several birth control options for people with uteruses, those who are sperm producers are limited to two options: either wear a condom or get a vasectomy — two drastically different methods.

“Obviously, there’s contraceptives like condoms and stuff like that, but there can definitely be more. There’s a lot more for women. There should be a lot more for men,” said Michaelangelo Quintello, a sophomore acting major. “It shouldn’t just all be on women.”

The contraceptive options offered to those able to get pregnant include birth control pills, cervical cups, implants, intrauterine devices, vaginal rings and more.

There should not be only two contraceptive options available to those who are sperm producers. It puts the majority of the responsibility of contraceptive and birth control use on people with uteruses, creating an imbalance.

This leaves sperm producers the inability to even explore options most comfortable for them or forces them to choose a contraceptive option that makes them uncomfortable: Wearing a condom too small for your size, or one made of latex even though you’re allergic, or even feeling pressured into getting a vasectomy. These should not be concerns cast aside by one’s partner.

In my own relationship, I’ve been told to consider a vasectomy, but the cost of the operation and my own comfort with the decision makes me feel it’s not the right choice for me. In our private conversations, my partner said she also hasn’t found a form of birth control that’s comfortable to her, which leaves us with only one choice: condoms.

Whether in a relationship or for your own individual preference, a contraceptive that is both affordable and comfortable must be the goal as newer and more diverse options for contraceptive become available.

My frustrations with the lack of male contraceptives led me to reach out to Kevin Shane, marketing and communications director for the Male Contraceptive Initiative, a nonprofit organization based in Durham, North Carolina.

“If you’re an egg producer right now, you should be all for sperm-targeting contraception, that is the only way you will achieve reproductive autonomy,” Shane said.

MCI’s mission since their founding in 2014 is to raise awareness and educate people, especially students, about male reproductive health through unique means like producing educational video games about male birth control.

Through fundraising, MCI funds research for the field of andrology — the study of male reproductive health. Through fundraising, MCI is able to develop new, long-acting reversible contraceptives for sperm producers.

Shane said the lack of a wider range of contraceptives for sperm producers is due to a lack of understanding of male reproductive biology. He said this stems from non-authentic conversations about anatomy with kids and teens who have a penis; misconceptions on current forms of sperm-targeted contraceptives like vasectomies; distrust between couples regarding their male counterparts taking birth control; and a major the lack of investment into andrology research.

“Vasectomy reversibility is a very, very misunderstood thing,” Shane said. “They are not intended to be reversed at all, and it becomes extremely challenging to reverse them as you get further away from that initial operation.”

Yvonne Oldaker, associate medical director for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said for those who are uninsured, a vasectomy can cost roughly $900 at Planned Parenthood.

“The thing about a vasectomy is that it is considered a permanent procedure,” Oldaker said, “The success rate of reversing a vasectomy is not guaranteed, and it can be expensive to go and get that reversed.”

According to a 2019 consumer research study of 1,500 men conducted by MCI in collaboration with MLF Marketing, 82% of men who experienced an unexpected pregnancy in their relationships are interested in new initiatives of male contraceptives, and 70% of men in the study have used condoms but only 2% have undergone a vasectomy.

“If there were more options out there [for sperm-targeted contraception] … we would see people taking them on and trying them, and I’m sure that people would be satisfied,” Oldaker said. “I definitely think there’s a market out there for it.”

As a method of protecting yourself from exposure to STIs, like HIV or hepatitis, condoms are still a great choice for ensuring safe sex, but you should not be limited to condoms as your only method of having safe sex.

In today’s era, a push for producing non-hormonal and hormonal forms of sperm-targeted contraception is essential to ensure body autonomy that is accessible for everyone without being forced to choose between a condom or a vasectomy.

No one should ever have to be forced into taking a contraceptive option that is uncomfortable or too expensive for them. The mission of reaching full body autonomy for everyone must include sperm producers.