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The Problem With Male Birth Control Is Not That Men Are Wusses

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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve seen the headlines jeering at men after the news broke that a trial for male birth control was cancelled because men “couldn’t handle” the side effects. The mocking was practically immediate. Men were derided as being whiners who were unwilling to tolerate the side effects that women endure every month, so not only were they weak, they were misogynists as well.

People titled Julie Mazziotta’s article “Men Back Out of Male Birth Control Study Because They Couldn’t Handle the ‘Changes in Mood.’” She wrote that it was time for guys to “woman up.” At The Wausau Daily Herald, the headline was “Male birth control study nixed after men can’t handle side effects women face daily.” The Independent writer Anna Rhodes declared, “Yes, contraceptives have side effects – and it’s time for men to put up with them too.” She sneered, “How sad for these poor men – they couldn’t handle the side effects that so many women have to deal with every day just to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.”

Omar Rimawi at Distractify shrugged off the side effects as not only minor, but also temporary, writing, “The effects of the injections are completely reversible, and would’ve finally provided a method to remove the sole burden of birth control off of women.” Cosmopolitan writer Laura Beck claimed the men quit because the birth control was giving them mood swings, writing, “Welcome to the club, dudes. Also: WOMAN UP.”

There’s just one problem: there were serious flaws with this trial, and that is why it was stopped. It’s easy to dismiss these side effects as trivial, and to laugh at men for being weaklings who refuse to go through what women must to prevent pregnancy. But the reality is, the potential side effects were dangerous, and women would not—and should not—accept them, either.

These Side Effects Are Deadly Serious

In all that has been reported about the study (which can be read here), it rarely is mentioned that one of the side effects was infertility. Of the 320 participants, one man was completely infertile after receiving the treatment. A year after they stopped taking the shots, eight men had not returned to normal sperm counts. There were also cases of erectile dysfunction, so the birth control was preventing some men from being able to have sex at all. Further, one study participant committed suicide.

Would it be as funny, or as trivial, if women took a birth control method that left them sterile, unable to have children when they decided they were ready? Or with no libido? Or suicidal? Despite this, though, it wasn’t even the men who shut the study down. The World Health Organization’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research chose to shut down the trial after reviewing the data and determining it needed to be stopped for safety reasons.

In addition to the potential infertility, there was the much-maligned “mood swings.” This wasn’t just a case of men feeling a little blue for a few days before they perked up. They actually experienced depression and mood disorders. “Mood disorders” isn’t code for PMS-like mood swings—it indicates an actual mental illness, which can include anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Sneering at men because they refused to tolerate being unnecessarily stricken with a mental illness is not only dishonest and misandrist, it’s stigmatizing as well. Downplaying depression and mood disorders as something people should just be able to tough out is legitimately harmful. Millions of people suffer from mental illness, and newsflash: it’s not something that you can just “woman up” and get over.

Women Should Take a Page from the Men

But women have to deal with all of this, the complainers cry! Why should men be exempt when women aren’t? Well, first, it’s important to note that the female birth control pill was approved in 1960. A year later, a “worldwide drug disaster” forced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to undergo a major overhaul, which resulted in the 1962 Drug Amendments. Now, drugs would have to be proven to be not only safe, but scientists would have to prove that the drug worked. There is a very good chance that the female birth control pill, approved by the FDA in 1960, would not meet the more stringent standards of the FDA today.

Yes, the pill does, indeed, come with a bevy of side effects, the most dangerous of which is blood clots. It has also been linked to mood disorders, just like with men. This is why many pharmaceutical companies have created lower-dose birth control, or non-hormonal birth control methods, like intrauterine devices.

The reports make it seem like whiny men stomped their feet like toddlers, and their temper tantrum made researchers halt their work. But the research is still ongoing, and while this study didn’t result in publicly available hormonal birth control for men, scientists are still hailing this trial as a major breakthrough. Research is planned to continue in the future, and scientists hope it will be on the market in the relatively near future. So fear not: men will soon be able to suffer through needless side effects just like women do!

This brings us to the real crux of the issue. The women complaining about men not being forced to endure the side effects of hormonal birth control basically have the attitude that, if they have to do it, men should have to also. But isn’t the more sensible answer to refuse to force women to endure these side effects, rather than also dragging men into it?

Think about it: the entire point of hormonal birth control is to prevent a healthy biological system from working as it is supposed to work, all so people can have sex without making babies. This is evidently so important that people should be willing to risk life-threatening side effects. Men and women alike should not be forced to endure mental illness, infertility, low libido or erectile dysfunction, blood clots, acne, weight gain, and the myriad other potential side effects, just to prevent pregnancy (and especially not when an essentially risk-free method of birth control exists). Our bodies aren’t broken, and we aren’t animals that need to be “fixed.”

Maybe this is the real problem, that pregnancy is seen as such a catastrophe, that everyone should just suck it up and accept such horrendous side effects because anything—even potential death!—is better than a pregnancy resulting from our choice to have sex. Women, don’t be bitter because men aren’t forced to live with the same side effects we are yet. It’s time that we demand more than this.