“Okay, so here’s what we’re gonna do,” says your doctor. “We’re gonna inject these little gold bits into your testicles then shoot you with a laser. You’ll be relatively baby-free for the next few months. What do you think?”
For the past five decades, the burden of ensuring sex-without-pregnancy has rested largely on women. Through hormone-altering birth control medication, from pills to injections to intrauterine devices, women have gone to great lengths to keep their eggs in check. For more permanent solutions, there’s been tubal ligation—“getting your tubes tied.” Men’s contributions have generally revolved around using condoms, for a temporary measure, or a more permanent vasectomy. But an option that guys don’t yet have is an intermediary solution like the pill: one that works for a while without being permanent.
Such pills are in the works, but Wen-qing Li are proposing a slightly different solution, one that C&EN says is “nonsurgical, reversible, and low-cost.” All you have to do is get gold nanoparticles injected into your boy bits and subsequently shot with an infrared laser.
Sun’s team envisioned heating up testis tissue to different temperatures for certain effects. They hypothesized that with a low heat, the nanorods would kill sperm cells but not sperm-producing cells, thus causing reversible contraception because the treatment would preserve the ability to produce sperm. But with a high heat, the particles would permanently damage sperm-producing cells, shutting down sperm production and leading to sterilization.
Some unwitting mice have already been subjected to the burning-from-the-inside approach to birth control. By cooking the mice’s testes, the researcher were able to cut mice fertility by 90 percent for a week, and by 50 percent for two months. Turning the heat up a few more degrees sterilized the mice completely. The scientists argue that because the technique does not revolve around manipulating hormone levels it’s likely that there would be fewer unintended side effects. Being able to brag about having gold in your testicles may be an upside, but on the whole it sounds like this may be a tough sell.
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