This past Friday, a study on an injectable male birth control was released. What’s good about it? It has a 96% success rate of preventing pregnancy. What’s bad? The study had to end early because twenty participants dropped out due to side effects. Mood swings, acne, panic attacks, decline in sex drive– all uncomfortable, worrisome issues. However, let us look at the side effects for the female contraceptive pill: “nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, weight gain, mood changes, missed periods, decreased libido, vaginal discharge and visual changes.” The pill also comes with a higher risk of life threatening blood clots, which occur in about one in one thousand women taking hormonal contraception.
Yet, women have endured these side effects for decades because the responsibility of avoiding unwanted pregnancy is culturally placed on the woman. This can raise issues when a woman can’t tolerate added hormones, or does not have reliable access to healthcare. Male birth control would be a first step in making this responsibility a shared one– both in personal relationships and in the overall cultural association between birth control and gender. There is a stigma attached to birth control, and its cultural ties to women. Employers have refused to cover costs for workers, citing religious objections; this same view has been shared by conservative politicians. Because people with biologically female reproductive systems are currently the only ones able to take hormonal birth control, these views target them specifically. Perhaps by expanding hormonal contraception accessibility to all genders, this stigma would be alleviated.
The presence of inconvenient side effects will not halt the progress of the development of male birth control (representatives say that the study is a “great step forward” and proves promising) but it is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the historical burden of sexuality women have had to face medically and culturally. Ideally, hormonal birth control would not have uncomfortable side effects, but it does and women have been obligated to weather them for decades. Not everyone experiences these side effects with birth control, and the advent of a male option would be convenient if one partner could not tolerate side effects while the other experienced few or none.