If you haven’t heard about the recent study about male birth control, we have to ask, where have you been? There was a recent study (that didn’t last for too long) for a new male birth control method. So, what happened? What went wrong, and what went right?
Thanks to nature, women have always had to take on the responsibility of child-bearing. Adversely, women have also always held the responsibility of birth control and pregnancy prevention. Men have had an out for any kind of real, conscious responsibility for too long! How interesting that men try to escape responsibility, right? (Can you sense the sarcasm?)
But now, scientists are exploring a male birth control option that men can take in order to prevent unexpected pregnancy. New research from the University of Edinburgh suggests that men might also be able to effectively take hormonal birth control, meaning women wouldn’t solely have to suffer that burden and men could finally share some real responsibility.
That was happening until the men who were part of the study brought it to a screeching halt. The study was stopped because men were experiencing side effects – the same kind of side effects that many women experience using hormonal contraception currently experience. These men couldn’t be bothered by the same things that women are burdened to bear.
It was 20 men who claimed they had issues when the study was halted. Of these 20, six men discontinued only for changes in mood. Six other men discontinued for various reasons like acne, pain or panic at first injections, palpitations, hypertension, and erectile dysfunction. The other eight men dropped out because of mood changes.
Serious Side Effect
One of the more serious side effects to both male and female birth control is depression. Unfortunately, one man who was involved in this study did suffer from depression and committed suicide. Of the nearly 39% of the reported side effects had nothing to do with the shots and the researchers said the same about one death by suicide during the trial.
But with side effects considered, 75% of the participants still wanted to continue taking the hormonal contraceptive shots. There were only four pregnancies reported out of the 320 monogamous participants. So when you really think about it, you could almost assume that with a combination of male and female birth control, there is no chance of pregnancy.
A Wild Success
Even with the side effects, the male birth control was considered to be a wild success. After the research ad studies were performed, it is clear that a male contraceptive injection could have a success rate of 96 percent — that’s almost as effective as the pill, which is 99.9 percent effective. The injection works by reducing the man’s sperm count and thus rendering him much less able to impregnate a woman.
The study included 320 men between the ages of 18 and 45. They were injected with two hormones: progestogen to lower sperm counts, and testosterone. The testosterone is used to reduce the effects of the progestogen (progesterone reduces testosterone, which is a natural occurring male hormone). It didn’t take too long before these big, strong men were whining like children.
A Comedians Point of View
There have been few responses to the study. Comedian Michelle Wolfhilariously called out the men who quit a male birth control study. During the Tuesday, November 1, episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, she offered up her response to news that a group of male subjects recently dropped out of the study because of side effects.
Wolf hilariously told Noah why she thinks the participants need to toughen up. “You guys call that ‘side effects.’ I call that day four of a fairy-tale period,” the stand-up comic joked. “Men are such little bitches.” Yeah, we can’t help but agree! Women have held it together for all these years, so what’s men’s excuse?
All jokes aside, it seems that men may be ready for more male contraceptive methods. Right now, the only viable options men have for eliminating the possibility of unwanted pregnancy are male condoms and vasectomies, which are largely irreversible. The injection is basically a reversible vasectomy that is injected into the vas deferens rather than a surgical cut.
While this injection is appealing to men, this study isn’t the only one that is testing a form of male birth control. A German carpenter has also invented a “sperm switch” that effectively turns the flow on or off. The switch could be implanted under the skin of the scrotum.
Female Contraceptives Rank Higher
Female and male birth control have both been discussed since the 1950s, but even with male birth control as part of the conversation, it was never investigated. Interestingly, the most popular forms of contraception since 1982 have been the female birth control pill and female sterilization. Female contraceptives have always ranked higher.
The male condom was third on the list, and male sterilization (vasectomy) was fourth. But even with male sterilization being fourth, the female sterilization is still used substantially more. Female sterilization for women between the ages of 15-44 were 15.5%, while vasectomies by men in the same age group were only used by 5.1%.
There are millions of women who know how important contraceptives are, so why are men exempt? This does raise the question: why is it considered to be more important for women than men? We are all in this together right? Well, kind of. Women obviously seem to have more responsibility.
Women do house the baby for the first nine months, after all. We get it. But a woman can’t have a baby without a man’s sperm. No sperm? No baby. That also sounds like a legitimate ideology, right? So for women, it is a reality they can’t escape (unlike men).
Damned If You Do…
Women, in a lot of cases, are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about birth control. Whether it is about how to use it, it’s safety, which option is best, when you should use it, why you should use it and so on, birth control is generally always up for debate.
At this point, you would almost assume that men would want their own contraception to gain even more control! But despite the recent study, too many men would rather just avoid any kind of discomfort and leave that up to women. Cool, thanks guys! You are so helpful, per usual.
A Vast History
Birth control has a pretty interesting history. As far back as 3000 B.C., condoms were made from materials such as fish bladders, linen sheaths, and animal intestines. That doesn’t sound particularly effective or sanitary, but it probably was an excellent idea at the time – very innovative and “modern.”
But around 1500, the first spermicides were introduced. The spermicides were developed by using condoms made from linen cloth sheaths that were soaked in a chemical solution and dried before using. Another seemingly “innovative” idea that probably had many adverse and harmful side effects. Could you imagine using fish bladders or chemical soaked cloth sheaths?
Condoms and diaphragms made from vulcanized rubber were developed in 1838 and the Comstock Act passed in 1873. This prohibited advertisements, information, and distribution of birth control. People who worked for the U.S. postal service could also confiscate birth control sold through the mail.
1916 was a momentous year. A woman named Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States and she was deemed guilty of maintaining a public nuisance. She served 30 days in jail but once she was released, she re-opened her clinic and continued to persevere through more arrests and prosecutions. Margaret Sanger was one of the first vocal advocates for women’s reproductive rights.
The First Pill
In 1950, when Sanger was in her 80s, she underwrote the research necessary to create the first human birth control pill. She raised $150,000 for the project! And in 1960, the first oral contraceptive was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as contraception.
Feminists challenged the safety of the pill at well-publicized Congressional hearings in 1970, which resulted in the change of the formulation of the Pill. The package insert for prescription drugs also came into being, offering additional drug information. In 1972, the Supreme Court (Baird v. Eisenstadt) legalized birth control for all citizens of the United States, irrespective of marital status.
During the 1980s, pills with low doses of hormones were introduced. During this time, there was also the development of the copper IUD, and ParaGard came later in 1998. In the 1990s, Norplant came on to the scene as the first contraceptive implant with DepoProvera as an injectable method.
The female condom was released in 1993 and the ever-controversial Plan B, a dedicated emergency contraceptive product, became available via prescription in 1999. In the 2000s, research expanded around accessibility and improvements in safety and effectiveness. Some of the big names and types included Mirena, a new levonorgestrel-releasing IUD, Ortho Evra, a hormonal patch, and Nuvaring, a vaginal ring.
During the 2000s, there were several innovative developments for female birth control. The first implant arrived in 2002, Norplant, which took off the US market. Later came Implanon in 2006, which is a longer-lasting, single-rod implant for women. There was also an improved female condom in 2009.
After regulatory and legal battles, one brand of emergency contraceptive pill (Plan B One-Step) became available in 2013. This was pretty monumental because you could get the Plan B pill without a prescription. You could purchase it “over the counter” on drugstore shelves, giving women an easier back-up option they can depend on.
More Research Needed
And now, more research is needed on both woman-controlled and male-controlled methods. We need more advancements in the protections against STIs and birth control for men and women. It is hard to imagine in the United States, but barriers still exist for women who want to access reliable contraception worldwide.
All of these incredibly thoughtful and ground-breaking contraceptive methods were all meant to give women more options but it makes you wonder, where are there any developments or options for men? Well, besides male condoms or sterilization. The various forms of birth control are all meant for women and can be placed or used in several different ways.
Birth Control is Normal
The use of birth control is normal practice — 62 percent of American women report using it — but even so, many women are still vilified for it. Women use birth control for more reasons that just to prevent pregnancy and if men were a bit smarter, they could probably figure out ways to make it benefit them.
Come on, guys. You can probably figure out a way to make male birth control that gives you large muscles, some hair on your chest and a bigger penis, right? That shouldn’t be too hard. Then every man will be fighting to experience the side effects for a chance to get more manly.
Still an Unmet Need
But in all seriousness, male hormonal birth control—an injection that lowers sperm count—has been found to be almost as reliable as the female counterpart. It does, however, cause side effects causing many to discredit it as an option. “The development of a safe and effective reversible method of male contraception is still an unmet need,” the report states.
The side effects for female hormonal contraception are probably even worse than the men’s birth control option. The FDA issued warnings of increasing the risk of blood clots in women taking the Pill. And in addition, recent studies have also found that all forms for hormonal birth control have an increased risk of depression.
This latest study male contraception raises questions about the history of gender bias toward hormonal birth control. for women versus men. One author, Holly Grigg-Spall, who wrote Sweetening the Pill: How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control, claims that hormone-based contraceptives for men are not under-studied; they have actually been tested for nearly as long as female hormonal birth control.
Grigg-Spall says, “I’m not advocating that men do use a hormone-based contraceptive—as clearly, from the studies, we know it to be no better than the female versions. The point is that men are not given the choice. They are, essentially, being protected from the same side effects women have suffered for some sixty years, even though, according to this study, three-quarters of the [male] participants said they would like to use the injection ongoing.”
Grigg-Spall adds, “women are not protected from the side effects (which extend to death) and instead sold any number of new formulations year-in-year-out that pharmaceutical companies can profitably patent. We should ask: Why are they being protected? Why can a drug like the ‘female Viagra’ be recently brought to market (and simply not sell well at all), but a hormone-based male contraceptive cannot when there’s a clear interest from men?”
It’s true; the development, and promotion of the Pill for women (or synthetic hormones as a whole) is disproportionate and favors men over women. The response to the recent study should provide solid proof. To be honest, fertility shouldn’t only involve women exclusively, nor should it be about men. And it shouldn’t have to be a danger to either party.
The Bottom Line
When it comes down to it, becoming more “fertility-aware” can spark a bigger conversation around a larger change in how we perceive and treat women. Maybe it will even change how we build relationships on communication and trust. Researcher Mario Philip Reyes Festin from the World Health Organization said, “The study found it is possible to have a hormonal contraception for men that reduces the risk of unplanned pregnancies in the partners of men who use it.”
Researchers want to (and will) continue their efforts in learning more about birth control contraceptives and the effects on the health of both men and women. But with findings of the negative effects of hormonal birth control concerning both sexes, we should invest in educating men and women on making the most informed and safe choice for them.