Why discontinuing male birth control wasn’t sexist

Examining the prospect of a male contraceptive in a female-dominated market

When it was revealed the male participants complained about side effects similar to those of female birth control methods and menstruation in general, many started assuming the medical community had devious sexist motives behind canceling the study.

The new method of birth control involved injecting a concoction of hormones near a man’s genitalia. The concoction, if successful, would reduce the man’s spermatozoa to one million per milliliter.

Looking into the incidence rate of side effects helps dispel rumours of sexism. Participants reported over 900 cases of side effects related to the contraceptive. Nearly half (45.9 per cent) of men experienced acne, 38.1 per cent experienced increased libido and 16.3 per cent experienced emotional disorders.

According to a report by Vox, Dr. Jen Gunther said the side effects in this study occurred at a much higher rate than in comparative studies for women. The Mirena IUD—a device inserted into the uterus and serves as a form of contraceptive—only saw 6.8 per cent of participants report acne.

Other reported side effects in the male birth control study included eight men being rendered infertile for over a year, including one man who is still infertile today.

Women have a plethora of birth control options, including the oral pill, the NuvaRing, IUDs, the shot and more, which offer benefits apart from pregnancy prevention. More regulated periods, less painful periods and acne reduction are just a few of the benefits women experience when using hormonal birth control.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which specializes in sexual and reproductive health, saw 58 per cent of all contraceptive pill users—the most common birth control method for women—use it for noncontraceptive reasons. In fact, 14 per cent use it for exclusively non-contraceptive reasons.

On the flipside, men are limited to two methods: condoms or vasectomy. Neither method provide them with extra benefits, nor does the newly proposed injection method.

Many articles have painted men as weak due to the discontinuation of this study. However, the data collected revealed that, at their final visit, 82.3 per cent of men were willing to continue using this method. Women, on the other hand, were less keen, with only 76 per cent willing to continue. Male weakness is therefore not the issue.

The study suggests the method was 96 per cent effective. However, this success rate was calculated using data only from “continuing users,” meaning couples who completed the study, and only assessed the method’s success within 24 weeks.

A closer look at the study shows only 274 of the 320 men who received at least one dose of the contraceptive method had their sperm counts lowered to the acceptable level. That is an 85.6 per cent success rate—far lower than other contraceptive methods on the market. So low, in fact, I would not trust it as my sole method of birth control.

Medical standards have improved throughout history. According to an article by the FDA, the first contraceptive pill was approved prior to the FDA’s knowledge of the dangers of thalidomide or the passage of the 1962 Drug Amendments. This, they claim, would have made the pill much harder to approve.

In the 1950s, according to the FDA, pregnancy and childbirth were much more dangerous, and so more risks were worth it to prevent pregnancy. Furthermore, one of the riskiest side effects of the pill—blood clots—was not linked to the pill until more than a decade after it was approved.

Women do indeed take on a disproportionate amount of risks and responsibilities when it comes to birth control, and I strongly hope one day we can find better options for both men and women. But we shouldn’t lower our current medical standards to 1950s-levels in the name of equality and fairness. That will only harm more people.

Sources:

The study: http://press.endocrine.org/doi/pdf/10.1210/jc.2016-2141

Guttmacher: https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/contraceptive-use-united-states

Vox article: http://www.vox.com/2016/11/2/13494126/male-birth-control-study?0p19G=c

FDA article: http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/WhatWeDo/History/ProductRegulation/SelectionsFromFDLIUpdateSeriesonFDAHistory/ucm092009.htm

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