Birth control research shows deference for men over women

Male birth control study ended early due to side effects, yet female contraceptive poses a higher risk


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A new study of male birth control ended early due to emotional side effects reported by male participants.

There are a few things in life men will never have to worry about: childbirth, getting their period and for now, remembering to take their birth control.

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism aimed to lessen the burden on women to prevent pregnancy with a contraceptive shot designed for men.

However, the study ended early due to the emotional side effects reported by the male participants — a laughable and incredibly frustrating conclusion, seeing as women on contraceptive birth control face emotional side effects every day.

The most common adverse events reported by men in the study were acne, injection site pain, muscle pain, the highest reported side effects being increased libido and mood disorders.

However, nearly all of the reported cases of mood disorders were moderate, with only two severe cases of depressed mood/depression reported.

Researchers involved in the study claimed nearly 39 percent of these symptoms (including one death by suicide) were unrelated to the shots.

Apart from the mood disorders, a small percentage of men (eight, to be exact) had not returned to fertility after 52 weeks in recovery. Five eventually regained normal sperm counts and one volunteer partially recovered.

While side effects like depression and infertility shouldn’t be taken lightly, the effects of the men’s contraceptive shot aren’t nearly as serious as the side effects many women face.

Elisabeth Lloyd, a faculty scholar at the Kinsey Institute and professor of biology and philosophy at Indiana University, Bloomington, spoke to CNN about the results of the study.

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

Having been on the pill myself for nearly seven years now, doctors and pharmacists have informed me of the potential risks and side effects of taking birth control a number of times. As anyone on the pill may be familiar with, they extend far beyond mood disorders.

According to WebMD, the side effects of contraceptive birth control commonly include: nausea, vomiting, headache, bloating, breast tenderness, swelling of the ankles/feet or weight change.

And that’s just the beginning.

Severe side effects include: lumps in the breast, mental/mood changes (such as new/worsening depression), severe stomach/abdominal pain, unusual changes in vaginal bleeding, dark urine and yellowing eyes/skin.

Not done yet.

Fatal side effects include: serious (sometimes fatal) problems from blood clots (such as deep vein thrombosis, heart attack, pulmonary embolism, and stroke.)

The side effects of female contraceptive birth control are substantial, especially the risk of mental/mood changes such as depression.

A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that among all hormonal birth control users in the study, there was a 40 percent increased risk of depression after six months compared to women who did not use hormonal birth control.

When it comes to the male hormonal contraceptive shot, researchers were quick to pull the plug after just 20 patients dropped out due to mood disorders.

Men are privileged in their ability to reject a contraceptive method because they themselves bear no risk of carrying an unwanted pregnancy.

However, researchers should not fall into the same trap. They must hold male and female contraceptives to the same standard. If women are expected to live with the side effects of hormonal contraceptive, it’s crucial we expect men to do the same.

If we cannot  justify certain side effects as a “reasonable risk” for men, we should not be justifying them for women.