I’m sure most people have seen the recent influx of articles about men’s birth control, since they’ve been trending on Facebook for a couple of weeks now. The titles of these articles grab the attention of readers: ABC published an article on October 30 titled “Study: Birth Control for Men Effective, But Has Side Effects”, and CBS published an article the day before titled “Birth Control Shots for Men Prevent Pregnancy but Cause Mood Swings, Depression.” If this doesn’t immediately raise a red flag for you, then you clearly don’t understand the effects of female birth control.
Female birth control comes in every which way: the pill, the patch, the shot, the implant, the injection, etc. Condoms and diaphragms also exist as forms of birth control, but they allow more room for human error. Thereby, most women go on hormonal methods of contraception. In the United States, 98 per cent of women have used birth control at some point in time, and 62 per cent of those of reproductive age are currently using birth control. In a 2010 Telegraph article, it was stated that around three million women in the UK were thought to take the pill to prevent pregnancy.
The 1st pill was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in May of 1960. Here we are, 56 years later, just now discussing the prospect of birth control for men. That alone is disturbing enough, but the real trouble is the conversation surrounding the side effects of male birth control when the side effects of female birth control are equally alarming, yet pretty much ignored. These effects include headaches, dizziness, breast tenderness, nausea, and decreased libido. Female birth control can cause serious mood swings, anxiety, and, you guessed it, depression.
CNN published an article last month breaking down the effects of female birth control. It stated that, “Among all hormonal birth control users in the study, there was a 40 per cent chance of increased risk of depression after six months, compared to women who did not use hormonal birth control.” The article quoted Dr Øjvind Lidegaard, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, who said, “We have known for decades that women’s sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone have an influence on many women’s mood. Therefore, it is not very surprising that external artificial hormones acting in the same way and on the same centers as the natural hormones might also influence women’s mood or even be responsible for depression development.”
I hope I’ve established that being on birth control can be pretty horrible. Having emotions exploding from inside your chest and having to question whether or not they’re real- whether or not the feelings that you are so indisputably feeling are legitimate- is a very confusing, disorienting, and embarrassing thing to have to experience. Yet so many women do, and have been, for 56 years, with extremely limited discussion about it.
I know many women who have gone on birth control, then felt themselves slipping into depression or anxiety and taken themselves off it. Many women do not realise that it’s the birth control that is at least partially responsible for their depression, so they stay on it and continue to suffer. One woman shared her birth control experience with me said, “I’d like to be responsible for my own sexual wellbeing but I noticed that the pill worsened my existing anxiety, in the form of both increased waves of anxiety and general stress levels.” She has made the decision to stop taking the pill for her mental wellbeing.
When female birth control was first becoming used by the masses, there were shocking side effects and horror stories. I spoke to women who went on birth control in the 60s and 70s, and they shared disturbing accounts. Birth control at the time sometimes resulted in permanent infertility, severe illness, and even death. One woman had to drive her college roommate to the hospital because her IUD was causing her to lose so much blood that she almost bled out. Another woman had a stroke when she was 28 years old because of her birth control.
Given the suffering that women endure from birth control, the uproar on social media platforms following the release of this study on male birth control is not at all surprising. CNN published an article last month titled, “Male birth control shot found effective, but side effects cut study short”. In this study, 20 of the men reported that they could not handle the side effects, while over 75 per cent reported that they would benefit using the birth control. This potentially ground-breaking study was cut short simply because of the dissatisfaction of 20 men.
The dialogue of this entire topic is filled with inherent sexism. It implies that it is one thing for women to tolerate the effects of birth control, since they are responsible for not becoming pregnant, but it is another thing entirely for men to have to endure the experience. Since men have more value in society, as they tend to run things, then perhaps it is more likely that a solution to the difficulties of male birth control will be found within a shorter time than the decades of problems that have plagued women who want to have some control over their re- productive lives. Women alone will continue to suffer from the injurious effects of birth control, while society labels them “crazy” for having mood swings.