Would you try the new male contraception method?

English: Electron microscope image of sperm.

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New research suggests that ultrasound can zap sperm. But does it really work, and what other alternatives might there be for men?

It was news that made many men cross their legs and click quickly away to another story.

A new study has revealed that ultrasound may, in future, be a reliable form of male contraceptive. The research – from scientists at the University of North Carolina – found that a short zap of high-frequency sound waves, directed at the testicles, killed a significant number of sperm in rats.

If the results were repeated in humans, the ultrasound blast would reduce sperm levels, “far below levels normally seen in fertile men,” said lead researcher Dr James Tsuruta.

More research is needed, but could this be the cheap, reliable, reversible and side-effect-free contraceptive men have been waiting for? And would you be man enough to try it?

False dawns
It’s fair to say that science has been searching for a male equivalent to the female contraceptive Pill for decades, with any number of false dawns along the way. Newspapers regularly report that a hormonal male Pill is just around the corner, but none has so far made it into the pharmacy.

That’s partly because using hormones to stop billions of sperm is a trickier undertaking than stopping one monthly egg. Using hormones to make men temporarily infertile is a tough ask and it could also be an unpopular one. As women have found, hormonal contraceptives have unpleasant side effects. Knowing that, do men really want a hormonal Pill?

“We don’t need to put men through what women went through for pill development in the 1960s,” says Elaine Lissner, director of the Male Contraception Information Project (MCIP). “Men won’t put up with it, and they shouldn’t. Times have changed.

“Hormones are not one-size-fits-all. You see this with the pill. Women often go through several attempts before they find one that’s just right for them – or at least tolerable! Why manipulate a system that affects nearly everything from A to Z – acne, blood pressure, cholesterol, you name it – when you can take a more targeted approach?”

The ultrasound method is a good example of just such a targeted approach.

The question is, will it work?

In fact, the North Carolina study is just the latest of a string of studies on the efficacy of ultrasound as a male contraceptive dating back to the 1970s. Studies have been completed on rats, dogs and monkeys. The equipment is readily available. Ultrasound does appear to zap sperm.

“It’s clear now that ultrasound works, once you get the settings right,” says Lissner. “That said, it will take a lot more research before the average man will feel comfortable with it for temporary contraception.”

And that’s the problem. There are two serious questions that need to be answered before ultrasound is accepted as a bona fide male contraceptive. Put simply, if ultrasound zaps sperm, how long does it take for fertility to recover? And what effect will repeat doses of ultrasound have on sperm quantity and quality in future?

“How well will fertility return after many uses in a row? And would there be issues with sperm quality, and possibly birth defects, while it is wearing off?” asks Lissner. At the moment, she believes ultrasound may have more potential as a permanent method, a nonsurgical alternative to vasectomy.

That might change with more research, but research requires funding, and the problem with ultrasound – and other non-hormonal contraceptives – is that there’s little profit to be made. Companies would prefer to sell men (and women) an endless supply of pills than a one-off ultrasound machine. The search for reliable male contraceptive options is a long road.

Other options
The ultrasound study does at least show is that there may be realistic alternatives to a hormonal pill many men would be reluctant to take, and the less-than-ideal methods – condoms, vasectomy, withdrawal – currently available.

According to Elaine Lissner, a different, plant-based pill called Gandarusa is in advanced clinical trials in Indonesia and could be available there soon. “But the first new method to win regulatory approval in the west may be Vasalgel, a polymer gel with a microscopic mesh structure that directly filters out the sperm as they flow through the vas deferens tube,” she says.

Another promising method is a pill being developed by a team at Kings College, London, which prevents the vas deferens (the tube sperm pass through) from contracting and pushing the sperm out during ejaculation. “It has a side benefit that ought to be of great interest to AIDS funders but has so far escaped notice: it could greatly reduce the male-to-partner transmission of HIV,” says Lissner.

The future
None of these options – or indeed a hormonal male pill or patch – is likely to be available in the very near future, however. The makers of Vasalgel – a non-profit organisation – hope to have it on the market in the west within four years.

But there is some cause for optimism. For many years policymakers didn’t think men were interested in contraception, but even with current options, men now cover more than a third of contraception in developed countries.

That may be the most important message from recent developments. Whether it’s ultrasound or anything else, young men want more of a say in the contraception they and their partners use, and they also want more – and better – options.


Why men are becoming more attractive?

You may be getting more handsome and even smarter. But don’t take my word for it – it’s science!

Young woman looking at young man (© Tim Robberts-The Image Bank-Getty Images)

Can we just say how fine you’re looking today? Somehow you look taller, a little more muscular, a bit smoother.

And you’re on good form with the chat, too. If we’re not very much mistaken, you’re as witty and sharp as you’ve ever been. We’re guessing that if you decided to chat up a girl in the bar tonight she’d be putty in your hands.

You may think we’ve gone mad – and you may well be right. But that’s not the reason for this outpouring of obsequiousness. If you’re a man, you’ve probably never looked or sounded better. Here’s why.

Woman caressing man's chin (© PhotoAlto-James Hardy-PhotoAlto Agency RF-Getty Images)

Partly, it’s evolution

But that’s not the whole story. The fact is, we’re all getting a tiny bit more attractive to women, whether we spend money at the beauty salon or not.

And that’s down to evolution. When we think of evolution, we tend to think of something that happened long ago, to our cave-dwelling, thick-browed ancestors. Not so, says Dr Virpi Lummaa, from the University of Sheffield‘s department of animal and plant sciences.

“It is a common misunderstanding that evolution took place a long time ago, and that to understand ourselves we must look back to the hunter-gatherer days of humans. Humans continue to be affected by both natural and sexual selection.”

So what’s that got to do with your pulling chances tonight? Well, according to Dr Lummaa’s research, it means that human traits are still evolving to increase their chances of mating success. And this is happening faster in men than in women.

Man hiking atop Tork Mountain with Upper Lake and Black Valley in the distance. (© David Epperson-Photodisc-Getty Images)

Dr Lummaa’s study looked at detailed church records of almost 6,000 Finns born between 1760 and 1849, and analysed their mating success and fertility. It found that sexual selection is still happening in human populations.

Co-author Dr Alexandre Courtiol, from the Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, said: “Characteristics increasing the mating success of men are likely to evolve faster than those increasing the mating success of women.

“This is because mating with more partners was shown to increase reproductive success more in men than in women.”

And what characteristics increase the chances of mating for men? The research speculates that men may be getting better looking (from a female point of view) and more intelligent even. Because if sexual selection is still taking place in humans, and these are traits women find desirable in men, men will slowly adapt to fit the ideal.

Women will evolve to fit male ideals too, but at a much slower pace because they don’t have an evolutionary need to mate with multiple partners.

Evolution may have equipped men to be more intelligent than women anyway. If there are any women reading, don’t shoot the messenger. Psychologist Professor Richard Lynn has written that, on average, adult men score five IQ points higher than women.

He claims that this is evolution at work. When our ancient forefathers hunted for food it took all their cognitive powers to bring home the bacon (or venison) day after day. That resulted in men evolving proportionately bigger brains than women.

Relaxedw man in open-top car (© Westend61-Getty Images)

Partly, it’s progress

Evolution is a very slow process, however. Scientific and technical advances are also working to make men more attractive to women.

For example, it’s largely improvements in childhood nutrition that have made both genders, but men in particular, taller then ever. Studies show that height is a physical trait women appreciate. Good childhood nutrition has also been linked to higher IQs.

The upshot of all this is that men fit female ideas of attractiveness better than at any time in human history. Our faces may be, on average, more symmetrical and more appealing, our bodies taller and our brains sharper. Add to that the time and money we’re spending on self-improvement and there’s only one possible conclusion: boy, you’re looking fine!


Should You Wait to be a Father?

New research suggests that kids with older dads have more chance of living a long life. But other evidence about delaying fatherhood is mixed.

If you’re the wrong side of 30 and nowhere near being ready to reproduce, science has some good news for you.

And if you’re the offspring of an older dad, it has some good news for you, too.

According to new research from Northwestern University in the US and published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, older dads may pass on a ‘survival advantage’ to their children.

The study found that the DNA code of sperm changes as men age, and that this change, when passed on to their offspring, favours longer life.

So is delaying fatherhood a good idea? We take a look at the whole picture.

Older dads make healthier kids?

Put very simply, the new research found that telomeres, which protect the ends of our chromosomes from damage, were longer in young people with older fathers. Telomeres shorten with age until cells can no longer replicate, a key factor in the ageing process.

“As paternal ancestors delay reproduction, longer telomere length will be passed to offspring, which could allow lifespan to be extended as populations survive to reproduce at older ages,” said Dr Dan Eisenberg, lead researcher on the study.

In other words, older dads could be bequeathing their children the gift of longer life.

Other advantages of being an older dad

And there are other advantages to being an older dad, according to experts. Maturity, wisdom and financial security are some of the factors that make a happy, focused father and they’re more likely to be found in men approaching middle age than their whippersnapper counterparts.

“Older fathers are more likely to have greater control over their careers so are less likely to be focused on proving themselves professionally, and they can be more flexible,” says Andrew Watson, author of Down to Earth with a Bump: The Diary of a First-Time Dad.

“When more and more families are dual-career families, this flexibility is of enormous benefit, and can hugely cut down on the stress (and expense) involved with childcare.”

Less time in the office means more time with the kids, and what children want more than anything else is time with their parents.

Financial security, though not a given for anyone, is also more likely to be found in older dads. A father who is relaxed about paying the bills and keeping a roof over his family’s head is quite simply a more fun dad to have around.

“They (older dads) also have greater life experience and may well have an increased ability to prioritise their children in a way that younger dads might struggle with,” adds Watson.

“To some extent, they might feel they’ve had their chance as a single professional, and so are actively looking for a new challenge.”

That new challenge is often being the best father they can be – not always a priority for 20-somethings desperately trying to climb the greasy corporate pole and keep at least some semblance of a social life together.

The downsides of delaying fatherhood

But there are downsides to delaying fatherhood too, as even the authors of the new research admit.

Experts say that there may be advantages in passing on longer telomeres to children, but the advantages may be offset by the fact that middle-aged men tend to display more DNA damage and mutations in sperm.

It’s also now known that male fertility tends to decline with age, just as female fertility does. Men who delay fatherhood too long may find they have difficulty conceiving at all. Studies have found that women whose partners were over 35 had more miscarriages than women with younger partners.

So the medical case for delaying trying for children is not clear-cut. And nor are other factors.

“There’s no doubt that fatherhood is exhausting, and older dads will feel this all the more,” says Andrew Watson. “And while a gap between parent and child in terms of their interests and outlook is perhaps only healthy, that gap is likely to be all the greater – and perhaps all the more difficult to handle – when the father is much older.”

Much older fathers are perhaps less likely to understand the preoccupations of their teenage children, and to empathise with them.

And then there’s the simple biological fact that the older you are when you conceive a child, the less time you’ll have to be in your child’s life. You may pass on age-defying telomeres to your kids, but your own aging process will continue apace.

“There’s also the issue that, while it might be well and good for the dad to delay, he needs a partner to have a baby, and there are considerable proven disadvantages of women waiting too late to have a family,” says Watson. “So unless we’re going to encourage an ever-growing age differential between parents…!”

If your partner is older, the same age or not much younger than you, delaying starting a family could lead to the crushing disappointment of not being able to start a family at all.

Should men delay fatherhood?

So should men put off fatherhood until their jobs are secure, their youthful indulgences are over with, and their sperm sport long and life-extending telomeres to pass on to their children?

It may depend on your personal opinion on what you think is best for your kids, be that a dad with youthful zip and zest or one with the wisdom of maturity.

One thing does seem clear, however. Don’t let the new research sway you one way or the other. There are advantages to having a child at 25 and advantages to leaving it another decade, but the most important factor – when you and your partner feel ready – is something only you can know.

Source: http://him.uk.msn.com/in-the-know/should-you-delay-fatherhood