Can Men Handle Birth Control?

The warmest of welcomes to the club.

10.31.16
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We’ve discussed the burden of birth control before. The stress on women to navigate a litany of side effects, to choose the lesser of many evils, to go it alone under the pretense of societal expectation. Men complain about their options too, of course. But they measure the repercussions of condoms, for instance, in degrees of pleasure. My friends and I (and probably you, too) have a running joke about how quickly this shit would get fixed — by doctors, scientists, pharmaceutical companies — if men were the ones bearing or at least shouldering the consequences of hormonal birth control.

Well, this might be our moment. Sort of. Yesterday, CNN reported that birth control injections for men have come under examination. “The study, co-sponsored by the United Nations and published Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, tested the safety and effectiveness of a contraceptive shot in 320 healthy men in monogamous relationships with female partners.”

Highlights! It worked. “The researchers discovered that the shot effectively held the sperm count at 1 million per milliliter or less within 24 weeks for 274 of the participants. The contraceptive method was effective in nearly 96% of continuing users.” That compares to 99.9% for female birth control, if you were wondering. Not great, but good.

Lowlights. There were a ton of side effects. Mood swings, depression and some fertility after-effects, almost all of which were temporary. These weren’t across the board, though. In fact, 75% of participants said they’d be willing to continue using this method of contraception. “That’s unbelievable. That’s fabulous. I’m very very impressed with that number,” said Elisabeth Lloyd, a faculty scholar at the Kinsey Institute.

Super lowlight: the study was halted as a result of the side effects. If you’re scratching your head, same. These side effects sound terrible, yes, but also very…familiar. Un-halt-worthy, perhaps, when you consider the numbers. “Twenty percent or 30% of the women who take oral birth control pills experience depression and have to take medication for it,” said Lloyd. “They terminated this study once it showed 3% depression for the men.”

I’m inclined to trust that researchers know what they’re doing, but I also can’t help but perform the daintiest of eye rolls. Like…welcome guys!!!! We’ve been on this hormone roller coaster for a while. ISN’T IT FUN? Millions of women face even more serious birth control side effects, including death.

“These risks of fertility damage are not fatal risks like the women endure with their birth control,” continued Lloyd. “You have to compare what women are doing in terms of taking hormones with what men are doing in terms of taking hormones. Are they taking their life in their hands when they take the hormones? Women are. And that needs to be put right up in front when considering the risk.”

I think men are willing to try hormonal birth control! At least most men I know, so I hope big pharma continues to invest in more diversified birth control options. Wouldn’t it be nice if family-planning hetero couples could decide together who should take on the responsibility of hormonal tinkering?

Photo via iStock.

 

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