The female contraceptive pill was first prescribed to single women in 1974, and has had a huge impact on the way that women in the UK live their lives. In the UK, one third of women aged 16-49 use one of two types of contraceptive pill, but research into a male hormonal contraceptive has just been halted.
Just twenty men out of 320 said the side effects were too much to deal with for an injection which had a 96% success rate in preventing pregnancy. That small number of men was enough to halt the development of a contraceptive method that 75% of men in the trial said they would be happy to use.
These side effects include depression, muscle pain, mood swings, acne, and changes to the libido. Only eight instances of severe side effects were reported in the duration of the study, and 5 of those instances were related to increased libido.
Many would say that those side effects are a good reason to discontinue the development of a drug – certainly depression can have a significant impact on the quality of a person’s life. It’s not that cut and dry, however, when you consider the historical context of contraception where the onus has been on women to shoulder the burden.
There are many forms of female contraceptive, both hormonal and non-hormonal. Many of these include side effects such as depression, mood swings, acne, and changes to libido. Those sound pretty familiar, but that’s not mentioning the increased risk of cervical cancer and deep vein thrombosis, both of which can be life-threatening. There’s also new evidence implicating some types of contraceptives with Crohn’s disease, an illness which has a huge impact on quality of life. More minor side effects include raised blood pressure, ovarian cysts, migraines, and weight gain, depending on the type of contraception used.
There’s also a huge impact on quality of life when a person becomes pregnant. Common side effects of pregnancy include nausea, vomiting, back pain, constipation, bloating, and fatigue. Many face far worse complications, and mental health issues among new mothers are far from uncommon.
It’s not about racking up points, though. It’s not a competition for who has to suffer more in order to enjoy their sexual freedom, not when that freedom has been so hard-won for women. In countries all over the world, activists are still fighting for access to female contraception, and the education on sexual health is so often focused on abstinence. Where men get drugs like Viagra for free, women have to fight for medication to regulate their periods.
Scientific research has never been as neutral as it pretends to be. Examples such as undiagnosed cases of ADHD and autism in young girls because the symptoms differ from the young male norm have only recently come to light.
With scientific research and sexual freedom inextricably linked, we can’t just give up on research at the first sign of trouble. There’s a huge gap that needs to bridged in both of those areas. The good news is that this hormonal injection isn’t the only male contraceptive being researched and research in other areas is becoming more equal.
One day, health inequality and inequalities in sexual freedom will be history. Sadly, today is not that day.