THE arrival of the oral contraceptive pill some 60 years ago heralded a new era in birth control and indeed women’s control over their own bodies. Today multiple options exist.

Yet so far there have only been two for men, either condoms or vasectomy. There are many theories behind the lack of development in this field. Because women bear the risks of pregnancy and childbirth, perhaps it has been seen as the woman’s responsibility to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

Maybe men have felt side-lined from the conversation, with their options ranging from one extreme to the other with nothing in between.

It may or may not surprise you to know that 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned, supported by studies showing that the most common form of contraception worldwide is to use no contraception at all.

Male contraception is not a new concept, but it may become a reality very shortly. Methods can be split into hormonal and non-hormonal. Hormonal methods use a combination of progesterone and testosterone.

Progesterone lowers the sperm count to less than one million per millilitre (ml), and while this may still seem a lot, a sperm count needed for fertilisation is estimated to be between 15-200 million per ml.

Testosterone compensates for the effects of progesterone which reduces the body’s own supply of the hormone. A trial of more than 400 couples organised by the University of Edinburgh is currently underway. The hormones are in the form of a gel, rubbed into the skin once a day.

Non hormonal methods have focused on the vas deferens, the tube carrying sperm from the testicles to the penis. In a vasectomy these tubes are cut, essentially producing a road block.

It is a permanent procedure and everyone should be counselled about this beforehand. RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm under Guidance) is the brainchild of Indian engineer Sujoy Guha.

A chemical is injected into the vas deferens which blocks the tube, also killing any sperm which come into contact with it. A second drug injected into the vas deferens would dissolve the plug, hence restoring fertility. This second step has not been trialled in humans as yet.

Another similar system, known as an Intra Vas Device (IVD), again uses a plug placed in the vas deferens, which filters out sperm. Again this plug could be removed at a later date, making this and RISUG long acting reversible forms of contraception, perhaps comparable to the coil for women.

It should be noted that none of the above methods would prevent against the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs/STIs).

Perhaps hormonal methods will be available sooner than the non-hormonal ones, and may be preferred due to ease of use and because they don’t require a procedure.

What can be said definitely is that contraception is the responsibility of everyone, male and female, who doesn’t wish to be a father or a mother, at least not at this time.

And in this festive period, as the saying goes, “if you can’t be good, be careful”.