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The Male Pill: It's Time Men Were Given Responsibility for Contraception

by Richard C. - December 12 , 2016


Photo Credit: by Pixabay
Photo Credit: by Pixabay

Sex is unfair. It’s fun, evolutionarily important and biologically compelling, but it’s unfair. Immediately some men reading this might think, “Hell yeah, it’s unfair! Men have to buy all the drinks, do all the hard work and there’s not even a guarantee of getting laid, whereas women can just go and shack up with anyone, anytime!” Well, that’s a) not true and b) not what we mean anyway.

There may be a perceived social imbalance between the sexes in terms of (apologies for the crudity of this metaphor) supply and demand, but when it comes down to the practicalities of sex, it’s women who come off worse. Men don’t have to go through the monthly agony of periods, they don’t bear the risk of pregnancy, nor do they suffer the inconvenience and pain of it when it happens.

Basically, men have got it pretty good. In pretty much every way. That’s the patriarchy of life for you, though.

However, recently there was an exciting new development in the world of pharmaceuticals that could one day help balance things out a bit. You may have read about a clinical trial testing a new contraceptive injection for men. You may have heard that the trial was, in some regards, extremely successful. What you’re more likely to have heard is the circumstances in which the trial was stopped.

The hormonal injection lowered or halted the production of sperm in men, and seemed to be very effective - 96% of couples who completed the treatment reported that the injection successfully prevented pregnancy. According to the trial’s press release, “the regimen led to a near-complete and reversible suppression of spermatogenesis, or sperm production. The contraceptive efficacy compared favorably to other reversible methods available for men.”

Good news, right? Right... partly.

Though the contraceptive injection proved to be successful in preventing pregnancy, the trial was stopped after several men reported adverse reactions and side effects. The frequency of side effects was high: 320 men took part in the study, and 1,491 adverse events were reported. 900 of these events were determined to be related to the injection. Adverse events included acne, mood disorders, increased libido, injection site pain and mild muscle pain.

Photo Credit: by Pixabay
Photo Credit: by Pixabay

For these reasons, the study was halted. When the findings were released to the public, including the reasons for the trial’s end, that’s when the stories started. Some press outlets reported that the men involved in the trial were ‘wimping out’, with social media commentators pointing out that millions of women around the world have to deal with similar side effects when taking the pill and other contraceptives. On the face of it, that’s exactly what it seems like: women do have to deal with these problems, so why shouldn’t men?

However, to say that the study was stopped because the men involved were wussing out when the side effects kicked in is untrue - it’s more complicated than that. The study was halted because one of the two independent bodies decided that the side effects being reported were severe enough to stop the trial from continuing, not because the subjects were wimps who couldn’t handle it any more. The fact is, clinical trials have to abide by strict procedures, and despite the apparent similarity between what the trial subjects experienced and what women go through on a daily basis, there was a medical need to halt the trial.

In fact, most of the couples involved with the trial said they would continue to use the male contraceptive injection if given the opportunity - 82.3% of male participants and 76% of female participants. Some of the reported side effects were marked as being severe, but despite that, the majority of the men were happy to carry on using it.

The outrage, if perhaps misinformed in some cases, is entirely understandable. For as long as humans have been having heterosexual sex, it has always been the woman who has to deal with the consequences of it. Female hormonal contraception has its own share of potentially nasty side effects, and the early history of contraceptive testing on women is horrific at best. If a contraceptive fails, it’s up to the woman to take action, to take emergency contraception or potentially get pregnant. A man might be in charge of the condoms, but if the condom should break, that’s where his responsibility effectively ends.

So when people hear that a study into a contraceptive that could go some way to restoring the balance between the genders is cancelled because of a few side effects - some of which women already have to deal with - it’s hardly a surprise that eyes rolled and tempers flared. The committees overseeing the trial had a god reason to stop it, but the fact is that there is an imbalance of justice here. The development of the pill caused generations of women a lot of pain and suffering, while a few hundred men got away with a bit of acne.

Photo Credit: by Selbe Lynn on flic.kr
Photo Credit: by Selbe Lynn on flic.kr

That’s not to denigrate the invention of the pill - in fact, a survey of 2,000 UK women conducted by by Clearblue Plus saw the contraceptive pill voted the number one invention of last century. It gave women the ability to have more control over their body and more freedom over their sex lives, and for a reasonable price: on Canadian Pharmacy World you can get 3 x 28 day courses of Yaz for $109.00.

The pill isn’t the only form of contraception that women can control either. An IUD or coil is an effective long-term contraceptive that can last for several years depending on the brand you choose. The coil is placed in the uterus by a medical professional and prevents sperm from reaching the eggs. Canadian Pharmacy World offers Mirena for $249.00 which can last up to five years, and Jaydess for $275.00 which can last up to three years. There’s also the implant, a small tube inserted into the arm that works in a similar way to the coil.

Giving women the ability to choose who, how, why, where and when they have sex was a major step forward, and there’s no doubt that female sexual liberation has brought us closer to achieving equality between the genders.

But, of course, there is still a huge gap that needs to be closed, and an effective male contraceptive injection or pill would take us that bit closer. It’s fundamentally unfair that women have had to and continue to be responsible for managing the biological consequences of sex when it takes two to tango. Women deal with the side effects of drugs and the potential risk of pregnancy, whereas men can just put their pants back on and go about their business (of course, both men and women are at risk of STIs, and the condom is still the best protection against infection).

The pill is a phenomenally successful drug, firstly because it works, but also because it has an unwavering market: women get pregnant, so a pill was invented that stopped women getting pregnant, and that’s the way it’s been for around 50 years. The status quo has been well defined, and while there’s money in it, it’s not going to change of its own accord. The only thing that will change this is the fundamental principle of business: supply and demand.

Men, if you want to share the burden of responsibility for sex, not just with your partner but between every man and woman now and in future generations to come, you have to show your demand for male pill. The study into the contraceptive injection was stopped and with good cause, but it would be an injustice to women if we just let them carry on dealing with the negative side of sex while we reap all the rewards.

So what do you say, fellas? Let’s make some progress.

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Rich Cooper is a writer based in London, England. He is Senior Writer at JOE.co.uk and works as a freelance writer. He writes about mental health, technology and masculinity (and sometimes pizza).


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