Why Millions are Talking About the ‘Sperm Switch’ - and Why It’s Still at a Tipping Point

Jonathan Walker for Shifted News
In the afternoon of the second day at re:publica, Dirk Baranek, CEO of a German brand communication agency Baranek & Renger, offered an extraordinary kind of sex education. He educated all those present in the packed room of Stage 8 on an ingenious contraceptive method for men. And how over 300 million people have found out about that idea. Both, male and female participants at re:publica listened eagerly to Baranek's talk, which was part of the re:health track.

It all starts with the well-known theme: “Human picks out the best: I have sex now and I have fun,” recounts Baranek, but beware “the danger of reproduction is lurking.” The audience breaks into laughter. And it won't be the last time during his talk. Until now, however, there was no possibility for men to take responsibility into their own hands when it comes to contraception - aside from a vasectomy that is all but irreversible. At the same time, a vasectomy is still the safest form of birth control, it prevents pregnancy at a 100% rate. So how about going for that sure-fire solution but making it, well, less irreversible. For example with a switch at the spermatic duct, or both cords, to be exact. The spermatic cords connect the two testicles with the penis - or disconnect, if a man has such a switch implanted, by the simple press of a button.
Preempting the obvious questions from the audience in response to his "revelation", Baranek takes a step back - or down really. After all, most men don’t even know “how it all works down there”, he explains, joking that “nerds could think of testicles as something like a mining server”. In fact, only 3-5% of the ejaculate consists of sperm. The rest is other fluids that still ejaculate during the orgasm even after the surgery. This is important to many men: “Something has to come out up front,” knows Baranek, who has a complete vasectomy behind him. As part of his presentation he shows a picture of the scar on his scrotum - to prove there is none, at least not visibly so.

His client, Clemens Bimek, who has patented the gadget, was in desperate need of publicity in order to both find potential human guinea pigs and investors for his idea. As a staunch vegetarian, actual guinea pigs - or any other animal testing - had always been out of the question for him. According to Baranek, Bimek hopes for brave men “who have the balls to have something like this implanted.” The sperm switch story didn't make it beyond the borders of Germany for a while, though. It was not until Spiegel Online interviewed Bimek when the British yellow press got wind of it - calling it the “sperm switch” or - technically incorrectly - “dick switch”. The device went viral. Publications in 50 languages followed, as well as a NOWTHIS video, which has garnered 53 million views and more than 60 thousand comments on Facebook. Not all of them enthusiastic.

Men generally see the procedure rather negatively, while women seem more open to it. For example, men are afraid of pain and do not want to be deprived of their very essential function by the push of a button, like a robot. Women tend to regard it as unnatural. Questions range from “In what kind of a world are we living in?” to “Why not operate it via bluetooth?” to the inevitable follow-up question “Couldn’t that be hacked then?”
All those concerns aside, there remains a fundamental problem: A total of over 300 million people were reached and 1.500 men volunteered for the procedure, after all, says Baranek. But they have yet to find an investor. They are still some 1,5 million Euros short, to manufacture and implant the valves before the vitally needed clinical trial can even be conducted. With a single valve worth around 1.000 € Dirk Baranek made sure that the demonstration piece he had handed out to be passed through the audience during the talk made its way back to him as soon as he was finishing up his talk. “You won’t be able to implant it yourself anyway.”