When we think about birth control, we tend to think of women. But a German inventor wants to flip the switch on that discussion with his latest creation.
Introducing the “sperm switch,” named the Bimek SLV, which is the brainchild of Clemens Bimek. The device claims to allow men to block sperm from mixing with semen before ejaculation.
It’s Bimek’s answer to male contraception and an alternative to a vasectomy.
During a vasectomy, the tubes that carry sperm are closed or blocked, and sperm can no longer enter the seminal fluid. Instead, the body absorbs the sperm.
While it’s one of the few options men have to prevent pregnancy, the procedure is meant to be permanent. If a man changes his mind later and wants to have a child, many vasectomies can be reversed up to a certain point, but there are different factors involved so restoring fertility successfully isn’t guaranteed.
Bimek wants the Bimek SLV to give men the freedom to decide whether to have a child with the push of a button, without having to opt into something permanent.
But how exactly would it work?
The SLV consists of a valve that is mounted on each spermatic duct, according to Bimek’s company. When the switch is closed, it disrupts the flow of sperm cells, and allows the sperm to be absorbed into the body.
When it’s open, it allows sperm cells to pass through the ducts. The valve switch can be felt and toggled with your fingers through the scrotum skin. There’s also a safety pin as an added security so the switch doesn’t turn on accidentally.
The switch — which is 7 x 11 x 18 mm — is primarily made of PEEK Optima, a biomaterial used for medical implants like cranial and dental implants. Other parts like screws and springs are made of a non-magnetic metal alloy, according to the company.
The device is designed to be inserted under local anesthesia in a half-hour long procedure, according to the company’s website:
Each spermatic duct is transected, then the newly cut ends are connected to the valve casing using specially developed instruments. The spermatic ducts are then put back into the scrotum and the inner and outer dermal layers are sealed – then you can head home.
Sounds quick and painless, but there are caveats.
The biggest one is that the SLV is not yet officially approved. Before the device can be sold in the U.S., it has to face stringent procedures for approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Clemens Bimek had the SLV implanted in himself in 2009, but the device still has to undergo clinical trials where volunteers are tested to make sure it’s safe and effective.
Bimek hopes to fund the device through 5 million euro (about $5.5 million) of investment, including crowdfunding, according to the Daily Mail.
The first tests of the SLV will happen with 25 men this year, according to a report. There are other technical checks, like manufacturing certification, packaging and sterilization.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the SLV is implanted in its open state. Once the valve is closed, there will still be sperm cells present in ejaculatory fluids for up to three months, or about 30 ejaculations. So it’s recommended that men who get an SLV undergo a sperm analysis with a urologist before they let loose and assume they’re good to go.
That’s unlike an IUD, or “intrauterine device,” a form of birth control women insert to prevent sperm from joining with an egg. Some women can have sex as soon as an IUD is inserted, although that depends on exactly when in a woman’s menstrual cycle the IUD is inserted.
And like many medical inventions, not all experts are sold on the idea. According to the Daily Mail, Wolfgang Buhmann, a spokesman for the Society of German Urologists, said the valve could have negative side effects.
For example, the valve could lead to scar tissue building up in the seminal ducts, which could stop sperm from traveling through the tubes and cause long-term infertility issues. Another concern is that sperm could stick to the valve and clog up the switch over time.
And if there is one thing that guys really hate, it’s a clogged sperm switch.
If the device works safely and effectively during and after clinical trials, Bimek could have a success on its hands. And while it could be useful, it shouldn’t be the end-all be-all, although the company sometimes markets it as that. Here’s one instance on the company’s website:
Half way through and searching for condoms? Need to insert your diaphragm? Forget to take the pill? Is your fertility window really over? What if you could simply forget about contraception? We want you to be able to concentrate on what’s important, spending time together without having to worry about contraception. To simply let go and enjoy.
While simply letting go and enjoying sex would be nice, it’s not realistic.
For one, condoms prevent more than just pregnancies. They also help guard against sexually-transmitted infections and diseases.
So the SLV might best suit those who are already married, have families or are in long-term committed relationships. Not to mention, if you have to wait a few months to make sure all the sperm is gone, it’s not the sort of device you quickly flip on and off in the heat of the moment. It really is something you have to remember is there and requires some advanced planning.
The calculated cost of the surgery and SLV is about $5,460. If trials and federal certifications check out, the company hopes to have the product to be available on the market in 2018.