Image: Anqa / Pixabay
Image: Anqa / Pixabay

Male contraception: tête-à-tête

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Warwick students weigh in on the controversial ‘male pill’

 

A male’s view

I’m a straight white male. From atop my pillar of privilege, it’s important to state that I am thoroughly supportive of research into an effective male contraceptive. I think that the resounding predominance of female contraceptive options is clearly a product of antiquated gender roles; it’s telling that research into a male contraceptive has only been instigated within my lifetime.

However, the general media portrayal of the male contraceptive debate has been hopelessly biased. Many have reported that the project was discontinued solely because of the adverse side effects experienced by the male volunteers. USA Today claimed the study ended because “men can’t handle side effects women face daily”; Cosmopolitan told men to “women up”.

After a year, eight men still hadn’t regained fertility, and one volunteer remained infertile four years later…

It’s true that the side effects men suffered were often identical to those that women suffer; however, the difference is in their frequency. 20% of participants experienced a mood disorder, 15% experienced muscle pain, half got acne. After a year, eight men still hadn’t regained fertility, and one volunteer remained infertile four years later.

By comparison, a study by the American Medical Association found that only 2% of users of the female pill and the patch experienced serious, adverse side effects. I am not denying that female contraceptive options can have catastrophic effects to a woman’s physical and mental health, but these effects are neither as severe nor as frequent as those of the men in the recent study. It is for this reason that the study was discontinued, and it is for this reason that I agree with that decision.

 

A female’s view

I must admit, when I read the headlines that participants in the ‘male pill’ trial dropped out due to negative side effects, I felt exasperated. Like, wow, men can’t handle mood swings and putting on a few pounds? These are things that women on the pill deal with regularly, as well as intermenstrual spotting – that’s right, bleeding all the damn time – decreased libido, headaches, breast tenderness, and nausea.

And that’s just the minor side effects: Deep Vein Thrombosis kills women every year, and studies suggest that the pill can increase the risk of breast cancer and depression. Sex is a shared responsibility, yet women are expected to put up and shut up just because they are the ones that can get pregnant.

These side effects shouldn’t be taken lightly, and women have been ignored for years when they suffered the same…

We often forget that the history of hormonal contraception is sexist; it was tested mainly on the incarcerated and poor, non-English-speaking women of colour whose concerns were ignored so that the pill could go ahead. Ironically, the pill was then marketed as a way of ‘liberating women’ by allowing them to control their own sex lives. However, when they did use the pill they were criticised and labelled promiscuous.

The news that men were dropping out for things like headaches therefore pissed me off. Looking further into it though, the results are actually more understandable. Sure, some of the reasons the trial was stopped was because of side effects like acne, but equally, participants suffered poor mental health, heart problems, and lasting fertility issues.

Hormonal contraceptives could be made so much better for both men and women, without severe health risks…

These side effects shouldn’t be taken lightly, and women have been ignored for years when they suffered the same. Hormonal contraceptives could be made so much better for both men and women, without severe health risks. But when that time comes: men, please don’t complain if you have to take a few minor side effects for the team – women have been doing it since the ‘60s!

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