Exasperated women told us how they felt about the male contraceptive trial being halted
Because of all those nasty nasty side effects! (The ones we already deal with)
October was a big month for male birth control. First, scientists announced that the male contraceptive pill could be widely available as early as 2021. Then, a groundbreaking trial found that a male contraceptive injection was 96 per cent successful at preventing pregnancy.
There was one drawback though – some of the men on the trial complained about the side effects of hormonal contraception, including acne, mood swings and soreness, and the trial was halted. From men, the support that we had gotten after the first study hit the news largely disappeared from our social media feeds.
From women, this information elicited a resounding, “So?” For us, negative side effects, such as depression, bloating, and acne are to be expected, and the more severe risks of blood clots, embolisms, and stroke have historically been accepted as a trade off for the ability to control one’s fertility.
At 25, I’ve been on hormonal birth control for ten years. I started taking the pill in high school for ovarian cysts and heavy bleeding that would often last months at a time. Various pills caused breakthrough bleeding, so I switched to the patch at the recommendation of my doctor.
While it worked for several of my friends, for me it caused the skin around where I placed the patch to fall off. The NuvaRing made my boobs huge and sore, and I had unpredictable breakthrough bleeding. I loved my Mirena hormonal IUD, but the positioning of my uterus made insertion painful, and it rejected after just over a year of use. The Nexplanon implant is the only thing I’ve tried that has given me a predictable-within-a-week cycle, but my cramps and uncontrollable acne leave a lot to be desired.
The idea that a man might not take what steps he can to prevent his involvement in a pregnancy due to a small chance of side effects similar to those that women experience is baffling to me.
As all women respond differently to various birth control methods, I decided to reach out to several other long time birth control users to get their take on the news.
Christy, 31, has been taking hormonal contraceptives almost continuously since just before her 17th birthday. She’s tried the shot, several types of pills, the patch, and, after several years of experimentation, she settled on the NuvaRing. Before birth control, her periods lasted two weeks with a two or three week break in between and she experienced menstrual migraines.
Hormonal contraceptives helped to regulate her periods, but she suspects that they made her menstrual migraines worse, which she accepts as a trade off. She also experienced drastic mood swings for the first 3-4 months every time she switched method, but she isn’t sure if her body acclimated to the new hormones, or if she just learned to cope with the mood swings each time.
When I asked Christy what she thought about the news that 25% of the men that participated in the study would not take the shot for regular contraceptive use due to the side effects, she was unmoved. She said: “I wish more men would step up in the family planning department.
“I believe most men are blissfully ignorant about birth control, and that they probably never realized that we were experiencing the same symptoms. As long as the women they’re having sex with are on it, they don’t care about anything else. Also, they don’t get pregnant, so why does it matter?”
Katelyn, 24, began using the Implanon and Nexplanon implants at the age of 18 in addition to using condoms. She had no periods for the first three years, a heavy period every two to three months for the next three years, and now she is experiencing spotting and longer, more frequent periods. She hasn’t experienced any other side effects, but she is frustrated that her periods are less regular than they were when she started using the method.
At the time of our conversation, Katelyn was rolling her eyes forever at the men who want to “financially abort” children, but will not take on moderate inconvenience to ensure that they do not father one.
Erin, 30, started using Ortho TriCyclen Lo at the age of 18. Her doctor told her that she would have lighter periods and fewer pre-menstrual symptoms, but she found that she was miserable 12-14 days out of every cycle. Erin said: “I felt like I was dying, and I had severe emotional symptoms. I was insecure, vindictive, anxious, and depressive. It was putting a strain on my education and my relationship. Switching to the ring allowed me to regain control of my life.”
Erin does not recall any side effects in her ten years using the ring, although it did take her nine months to ovulate after coming off of it. Now, after the birth of her first child, Erin and her partner use condoms, and she loves knowing what her cycle is like without birth control.
While she’s happy that that men are getting consideration for their side effects, she notes that it is exceptionally rare that a hormonal birth control method is pulled from the market for women, even though our side effects can be much more extreme. She told me: “Women have died of complications from taking hormonal birth control, and it’s expected of us to accept those risks when we start using contraceptives. It’s time that men shoulder some of the risk.”
While we’re all ecstatic at the prospect of a hormonal contraceptive option for men, we’re also understandably disheartened by the responses of men in our lives who expected it to be an easy answer. Our physical wellbeing is put on the line every time we have sex, whether we use contraceptives or not. The risk of pregnancy is one that we take seriously enough that we sign on to side effects and risk of death.
It’s time that men do the same.