Q: Are there forms of male birth control?
A: There are several methods of male-directed contraception being developed and tested in clinical trials all over the world. However, none are currently available to the general public. The road is being paved, but men may have to wait several years before any viable methods reach the market place. A few of the methods being investigated include:
1. Hormonal contraceptives: Pills, implants, and/or shots, using male hormones (androgen, testosterone, progestin) to stop sperm production, non-hormonal pills are also being discussed.
2. Thermal methods: Using heat to diminish sperm production.
3. Ultrasound methods: Using sound or other vibrations used in medical imaging to affect sperm count.
4. Vas deferens-blocking methods: “Vasal occlusion/interruption” would use a type of implant as a temporary version of a vasectomy, by plugging the vas deferens so that sperm cannot enter the semen
5. Sperm vaccines: Using an immunologic approach to decrease sperm count to zero. The male reproductive system provides unique challenges. While women release one ovum per month and are fertile for about 48 hours a month, men are fertile 24/7, producing sperm through spermatogenesis, at a rate of approximately 1,000 sperm per heartbeat. Another challenge includes concern over affecting future sperm production.
Keep in mind, none of these methods would prevent the transmission of STIs.
Q: I’m on my parents’ health insurance, but I can’t let them know I need birth control. Can I obtain it without their knowledge?
A: If you are under 18 and live in the U.S., you have rights to confidential reproductive health care. Unless you give permission to your health care provider, they cannot disclose your medical records to anyone, including your parents— except in the case of abortion services, which depends on state laws. Additionally, no laws exist that prevent minors from obtaining contraception, so teens don’t need parental consent. If you are on your parents’ insurance and/or live at home, it may still be possible that your parents would find out about your appointments or prescriptions. Talk with a receptionist or billing person about how the clinic can reach you directly for diagnosis information and treatment, or where to send medical bills. At most clinics, you can cover co-pays or prescriptions with cash, which is the most secure and private payment method. Also, if you just don’t feel comfortable with seeing your regular healthcare provider, you can visit a local health center such as Planned Parenthood.
Q: How often should college-aged women go to the OB/GYN?
A: Planned Parenthood suggests it is a good idea to have the first well-woman visit around age 13 to 15, primarily to establish a relationship with a healthcare provider and for sexual health education. If you’re under 18, receiving the HPV vaccine is highly encouraged. Around age 21, women will need regular pelvic exams, pap tests and breast examinations. And as you get older, if your health changes, or based on your family health history, well-woman visits may include mammograms and other tests. Remember, take advantage of this time and ask any questions you may have (periods, sexual activity, pregnancy, etc). It is recommended to see an OB/GYN annually, however if the results to a pap test are normal, then you may only need this done every 2 to 3 years.
Special thanks to goaskalice.columbia.edu and plannedparenthood.org for their assistance in answering these questions.