Injections leave men dejected: a contraception discussion

Malory Henry

Whether it’s a daily pill, implant, intrauterine device, or shot, birth control has become a routine aspect in the lives of millions of women, along with its side effects. For 60 years, nausea, headaches, weight gain, and mood swings have become the price women have paid to avoid unwanted pregnancy. This has led many women to question when men will finally take part in the conversation of “let’s not have children just yet.”

Since 1957, male birth control contraceptives have been pursued to no avail, leaving men to rely on condoms, abstinence, or the so-called “pulling out” method. However, the World Health Organization’s injectable male hormonal contraceptive was designed to lower sperm count in men recently began trials. 

The results of the second trial were documented just last week in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Initially, 96 percent of users experienced lowered sperm count, therefore preventing pregnancies in the partners of those who participated. During the 56-week trial period, only four pregnancies occurred out of the 226 male participants’ partners. 

Although it is only 96 percent effective as opposed to the 99.9 percent efficacy of the female birth control pill, the trial was only in its second stage of testing and is continuously being improved.

After an analysis by two external safety review committees, the study was halted due to the amount of side effects. The side effects of the male birth control shot included acne, injection site pain, increased libido, mood disorders, as well as one case of depression. 

One participant in the study even attempted suicide, but researchers concluded that it was unrelated to the medication. A total of twenty-eight men, six percent of the total participant population, experienced these “mild to moderate” side effects, causing many to leave the study.

From this, the committee came to the conclusion that “a definitive answer as to whether the potential risks of this hormonal combination for male contraception outweighs the potential benefits cannot be made based on the present results.” This has lead to an increase of frustration from women on the Internet who have suffered through similar side effects for years. 

The popular Internet blog Hello Beautiful and the Huffington Post have published articles titled, “Male Fragility Halts Progressive Male Contraceptive Because of Mood Swings and Muscle Pain” and “That Male Birth Control Story? Women Are Laughing Because We’re So Fed Up.” They are calling out men for not being able to handle these side effects. People with vaginas have experienced weight gain, changes in libido, acne, and mood swings because of taking birth control. More severe effects include a higher risk for anxiety, depression, blood clots, heart attack, stroke, decreased bone density, and cervical and breast cancers, yet this sort of protection for women’s health and comfortability has not stopped any physician fromadministering the various female contraception drugs. Instead, women are often not taken seriously for these side effects, and are instead viewed as being hormonal, moody, or irrational, trivializing real health issues. 

In order to truly understand the frustration many women are feeling, it is important to look at the history of some of these female contraceptives. After a multitude of women in the US dropped out of early birth control trials due to similar adverse effects or even sterilization, trials were consequently held in Puerto Rico in 1950, according to the PBS film The Pill

It was believed that these birth control trials acted as a form of “population control” to supplement Puerto Rico’s endemic poverty. These poor, uneducated women of color were used as guinea pigs for birth control trials due to their lack of autonomy. Although researchers concluded that there were “too many side reactions to be generally acceptable,” head scientists John Rock and Gregory Pincus dismissed the side effects that included headaches, dizziness, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting, believing they were psychosymatic. Three women died during the trials, and many more were left infertile. The researchers were accused of deceit and exploitation, but faced no repercussions for their actions. Ethical standards at the time were not equivalent to modern safety precautions, and these trials remain controversial in the history of birth control. 

For over 60 years, millions of women have been subjected to these adverse effects and are often written off because their safety is considered secondary in the name of temporary sterilization. It’s no wonder women have become frustrated that the first legitimate hormonal birth control for men was halted due to six percent of participants experiencing the side effects almost all women put up with on a daily basis. 

With that said, calling out men for not being able to handle these side effects does not help us accomplish anything. Obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Jennifer Gunter states, “If you want more men to enroll in these studies, calling the ones who report side effects ‘wimps’ is not the way to go about it … that’s no way to further the goal of male contraception.” So, how do we go about talking about this issue? What do we do?

What we do know is that women have been forced to deal with the side effects of contraception for more than 60 years and are even shamed for mentioning these feelings in public. The men who participated in this trial weren’t subjected to these standards. They were able to vocalize their opinions and be heard by the general public. 

Rather than shaming men and the progress of male contraception research, women should stand behind these men who are just now feeling and expressing our pain. These side effects can be serious, and telling men to “woman up” and deal with the pain doesn’t help those with vaginas who continuously take hits. 

If anything should be taken away from this trial, it should be that no person should have to suffer through these adverse effects in order to participate in safe family practice. Rather than telling men to suck it up and deal with potentially dangerous adverse effects, people should be fighting for better birth control for everyone.