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Trials are set to take place on a new implant that will allow men to control their fertility with the flick of a switch.
The Bimek SLV is a simple on/off switch that's surgically placed inside the scrotum to block semen. It's a reversible form of contraception for men whose previous options were limited to condoms and vasectomy.
The valve is implanted in the spermatic ducts under a local anaesthetic. Once in place it takes three to six months for sperm to clear from the seminal glands and prostate.
To turn on the valve the man simply feels for the rocker switch through his skin and presses. This prevents sperm leaving the testicles to mingle with seminal fluid. Sperm is then reabsorbed into the body as it is after a vasectomy.
So far the method has only been tested on the inventor who has used it since 2009, but experts are already divided over its potential effectiveness. Dr Wolfgang Bühmann, spokesman for the Society of German Urologists, warned that the valve may lead to scar tissue build up and eventually infertility.
As with all contraceptives options there are pros and cons.
Effective But Reversible: Currently men have the choice of using a condom or undergoing a vasectomy to control fertility, but this valve provides a realistic reversible option.
Urologist Hartwig Bauer says the invention is 'far more flexible than vasectomies... A third of all patients would like to have such operations reversed at a later date. But it doesn't always work.'
Ease of Use: Its inventor claims that once in place it will work indefinitely.
Choice: In monogamous relationships, the Bimek valve could potentially be a useful contraceptive alternative. Currently the onus is on women to deal with family planning, but not all women can or want to take hormone-based contraceptives and sterilisation for women is not only irreversible but requires a general anaesthetic and recovery time.
The valve provides an opportunity for men to take control of their fertility. Forgetting to use a condom on a drunken night, or in heat of passion, could be relegated to the past.
More STIs: Will the valve herald a wave of STIs? With bacterial resistance to antibiotics a worldwide concern, encouraging unprotected sex could be viewed as irresponsible.
Pregnancy prevention is a high priority and, without fear of conceiving, people may choose to have unprotected sex. This could lead to the spread of STIs, which, according to Public Health England, are currently on the rise, particularly gonorrhoea.
Planning Is Required: Three to six months are needed to clear sperm from the seminal tubes, so it isn't an on/off immediate contraceptive like a condom.
The Bimek SLV has its place. It's potentially a good choice for long term couples with trusting STI-free relationships, but for single men perhaps it isn't the best option. That said, it adds to the range of available contraception and choice is always welcome.
It's a reversible form of contraception for a man that's been a long time coming. If it passes the trials, it should be available from 2018.