It has been 60 years since the introduction of the first birth control pills, yet the burden of prevention still remains on women. Contraceptive equality was seemingly closer than ever in October, when the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism released a study stating that a male birth control pill was feasible. However, it was soon revealed that the research was cut short because men were dropping it due to the side effects, the same ones that women have been dealing with for years.
At first sight, this seems to exemplify the endless stream of sexism present in our society, but it is a little more nuanced than this. The study was discontinued because of safety concerns raised by an independent safety review, as one of the participants committed suicide and another could not get his sperm function back. While these events were unexpected, there was still plenty of media backlash. Many wondered why men could not handle the side effects of the pill, as women have done for years. Besides, the drop rate of 20 out of 320 is considered a normal one in female contraceptive method studies.
However, sexism may still be involved in the halting of the research; after all, even though there is no scientific proof, “20 percent or 30 percent of the women who take oral birth control pills experience depression and have to take medication for it [and] they terminated this study once it showed 3 percent depression for the men,” said Elisabeth Lloyd, a faculty scholar at The Kinsey Institute. Lloyd’s statement reinforces the perspective that the apparently successful study — with only four unwanted pregnancies in 320 couples and a large majority of participants who became fertile again after a short recovery period — was terminated because the stakes were not high for men: if the subjects impregnated someone, they would not have to necessarily deal with the consequences, unlike women, who always have to deal with
Nevertheless, women around the world are still seen as the only ones responsible for contraception, and they can only choose from options that will affect their bodies in some way; after all, most of the side effects include mood swings and depression. The study also suggests that the burden is getting closer to being lifted off of the shoulders of women, as 75 percent of the subjects said that they would consider taking the contraceptive injections. Additionally, although the doctors said that the halting was a disappointment, it was not going to put brakes on the research. Though contraceptive equality is still an uncertain possibility in our foreseeable future, it is reassuring to know that it may become a reality.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, November 7th print edition. Email Cara Zambrano at [email protected]