Scientists recently conducted a trial of a male birth control injection that was 96 percent effective in preventing pregnancies. Although the hormone injection is a promising alternative to the traditional birth control for women and people with uteruses, the trial was halted after some of the men in the study complained of depression, mood changes and libido issues. You know, the same damn side effects that (mostly) women have been dealing with for decades.
There’s two glaring problems with this: One, the unwillingness to put up with the same side effects in order to alleviate the struggle of the other partner and two, when men complain about these things, change occurs.
According to the CDC, 99 percent of sexually active cis women (polled from 2006 to 2010) have used one or more forms of contraception, and a Johns Hopkins study said that 11 million American women of childbearing age are using the pill. For generations, the burden of hormonal fertility control has fallen on cis women (and other folks with ovaries). An equivalent for folks with testicles has not been available, limiting the options only to condoms, withdrawal and vasectomies.
The drug trial, co-sponsored by the United Nations, used a sample of 320 cis men in monogamous relationships. The men were tested to make sure they had “regular” sperm counts and ranged in age from 18 to 45.
Test subjects received an injection every eight weeks. The men’s birth-control serum consisted of 1,000 milligrams of a synthetic form of testosterone and 200 milligrams of norethisterone enanthate, which is basically the usual “progestin” combo used in women’s birth control. The female hormones were used to drop the production of testosterone, which then resulted in a controlled, temporarily lowered production of sperm.
The cis male study participants complained of depression, mood changes and lack of sexual desire. Sound familiar? This writer’s personal experience with the pill included those same side effects — as well as spotting, excessive abdominal swelling, bloat and the occasional odd discharge — and I was told that this was common and well within the range of normal side effects by multiple OB/GYNs.
“I immediately thought of the recent findings on female birth control,” Elisabeth Lloyd told CNN in regards to the JAMA Psychiatry study, released last Thursday. Lloyd is a professor of biology and an adjunct professor of philosophy at Indiana University Bloomington. “Twenty percent or 30 percent of the women who take oral birth control pills experience depression and have to take medication for it. So the difference just struck me,” said Lloyd, who is unaffiliated with the new study. “They terminated this study once it showed 3 percent depression for the men.”
The only true risk that men took was a longer-than-expected time to return to fertility. “The minimum recovery time was about 12 weeks after the last injection, and the average time was about 26 weeks,” said Doug Colvard, co-author of the study. Compared to the risk of fatal stroke, hormone-related cancers and blood clots, the men’s risk sounds a lot less scary.
The irony and hypocrisy of it all is not lost on us. Perform more trials, get it on the market, put it in their arms and work out the rest just as you did with women. Yes, there needs to be a more effective, long-term fix that does not mess with the mental and physical health of those involved, but get this drug on the market and protect women from the fatal side effects of their hormonal birth control.
It’s too bad pharmaceutical industry wives aren’t willing to go full-on Lysistrata to get shit done for all of humankind.