Male Birth Control Isn’t a Thing Because of Sexism, Not Science
Birth control for men is not a viable option, and we have patriarchy and capitalism to thank for it.
On 29 October, a CBS report quoting a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism said that male birth control shots were an “effective form of contraception, but the side effects are a problem.” On reading further, one discovered that these side effects were mood swings and depression. The side effects led to an external safety review committee recommending that the study be terminated before completion.
Male Birth Control Isn’t a Hot Research Topic
A large number of women scoffed at the report. Mood swings and depression are among the mildest side effects of birth control pills for women. For women on the pill, nausea, weight gain, mood changes and spotting are expected side effects, which pill users combat with conscious lifestyle changes. For a number of women, however, hormonal contraceptives can dangerously aggravate existing problems: smokers, cancer patients, those suffering from migraines and hypertension, liver and heart patients cannot use the pill.
For the healthy male, there are no known side effects, barring depression and erratic moods. However, there is a distinct lack of research on the long-term effect of the birth control drug on the male body, and it is this lack of research that is telling. I spoke to a number of doctors, trying to understand why something as fundamental as a male contraceptive isn’t available in the market.
Pregnancy is a Woman’s ‘Problem’
The answer is simple: patriarchy. Most men believe that pregnancy and prevention are a woman’s ‘problem’.
Really the only problem with male birth control is the male psyche; men refuse to take the pill. The side effects aren’t the actual problem at all. Lots of medication, including Crocin, has side effects. Do people stop taking Crocin?Dr Sajid, Andrologist
The reason these pills don’t exist is because there is no incentive for pharmaceutical companies to fund research and clinical trials. There is no demand for it, and pharma companies won’t be able to market it. Research for male contraceptives began in China, but were stopped – there simply weren’t enough takers.Dr Anirudh S, an MBBS Graduate
Lack of research triggers a vicious cycle. The female menstrual cycle has been thoroughly researched, and the effect of externally administered hormones on the body is well known. In comparison, much less is known about spermatogenesis. As a result, doctors are much more likely to prescribe birth control for women, according to Dr Sabyasachi Sengupta, a Mumbai based doctor.
From a medical point of view, it makes as much sense to prescribe birth control to men as it does to women.
For any sexually active couple, I would very strongly advise barrier methods of contraception, like condoms. However, if for some reason, an alternate birth control method – like the pill – is necessary, I see no reason not to prescribe them to willing men.Dr Sajid
Are Men Actually Unwilling?
And therein lies the million dollar question. Are men willing? A number of them aren’t, but they don’t expect their partners to have to grapple with the side effects either. After all, if condoms exist, why medicate at all?
“Why do either men or women have to take the pill? Why can’t we just use condoms as contraceptives? The risks aren’t worth it, for either gender” (Vikas S)
“I can’t imagine either of us needing the pill if we just used condoms.” (Rahul Nair)
“I’m waiting for the day when safe, reliable birth control methods with no side effects are made available. Until then, it’s going to be condoms.” (Pravin Pal*)
“If there was a way to share the responsibility, I’m game. Since the side effects may be worse for my partner, I’d be willing to take the pill more often than she would have to. However, I understand that birth control doesn’t work that way.” (Paranjoy Roy)
Whatever the consensus, since the female birth control pill exists, it is only fair that there is an option available for men to share the load. The sad thing is we aren’t going to find it at our local chemist any time soon. For that, we have capitalism and patriarchy to thank.
*name changed on request
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