Birth Control: It’s Not Just for Women

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11/01/16

There have been a series of articles going around discussing a study that was recently published in The Journal of Clinical Endorcinology & Metabolism titled “Efficacy and Safety of an Injectable Combination Hormonal Contraceptive for Men.” In it they describe an injected hormone based male contraceptive. It turned out to be a highly effective and reversible form of birth control, but the study was stopped because of the side effects. Side effects included acne, injection site pain, increased libido, and mood disorders. Ladies, I know this sounds super familiar.

They start by acknowledging the problem, “by the 21st century the methods for women had expanded, whereas options for men to control their own fertility remain limited to withdrawal, condoms, and sterilization.” During the trial the two separate safety committees assessed the safety of the regimen and came to two different conclusions. One of them approved the trial, and the other recommended it be halted for safety reasons. It was halted.

Although the study was stopped early, in questionnaires 87.9% of the men and 87.5% of the female partners stated that they would use a method of contraception like this. Most people actually really liked it.

I understand why they like it. It requires no extra work on your part; in this case there was no room for user error. Unlike with the pill, users couldn’t forget the routine injection. The peace of mind is incredible and in my experience, it’s totally worth the very common side effects.

I use hormonal birth control. The potential side effects for Mirena, my specific birth control, include

“missed periods, bleeding and spotting between periods, abdominal/pelvic pain, nervousness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, bloating, breast tenderness or pain, weight gain, changes in hair growth, acne, depression, changes in mood, loss of interest in sex, itching or skin rash, and puffiness in the face, hands, ankles, or feet.”

On top of this there is a whole slew of health concerns if your IUD moves. It can become embedded in the wall of or perforate your uterus. I literally can’t even think about this one, and just have to take comfort in the fact that it is rare.

the-pillWhy would I use such risky birth control? A fraction of these side effects made male birth control “unsafe.” Why would I do something “unsafe?” Well I spent years trying out many kinds of birth control. It started with a variety of hormone pills that all had one awesome side effect, debilitating migraines. Headaches so bad that I would see spots and be basically incapacitated on an almost daily basis. We kept changing the brand, the hormones, etc, but it just didn’t work.

Then we tried Paraguard the non-hormone IUD. It kind of worked, except for the cramps were so bad during my 2 week periods that it really didn’t work at all. So we removed that one.

I say we, because this is a “we” project. This was an ongoing discussion with my partners and my doctor. It turns out babies aren’t made in a vacuum and although my body was experiencing the side effects, I wasn’t the only one taking risks. My partners also had a right to know what chances of failure my methods carried and to act appropriately.

I talked to my doctor about all of my options, we decided to think outside the box. We sat down and looked at everything. Diaphragms when used imperfectly (let’s be honest, I don’t think I would be perfect) 12 out of 100 women became pregnant in a year. This risk was just too high for me. Condoms are great, but again imperfect use, and they break. I’d had a few break in the past, so I was extra concerned about them.

Basically everything else is hormone based, so we went back to the hormones. Mirena is an imperfect solution for me, but the best available. I realized recently that I’ve spent so much of my life using hormonal birth control, that I’m not sure if it affects my weight, libido, acne, or moods. I have no real point of comparison anymore. I do know that I am very happy I have options, however imperfect, that allow me to choose when I want to become pregnant.

Right now, men have the following options for birth control: withdrawal, sterilization, and condoms. Honestly, I don’t consider the first one reliable, and the second is not easily reversible.

I am not advocating that we have unsafe clinical trials. Yes, early forms of hormonal birth control released to women were unsafe; I don’t think that means the same must be true for men. That being said, I do think that we should allow men the right to choose. Plenty of men don’t want to be fathers right now and they are given almost no options. If they want to join the millions of women who choose the imperfect option of hormonal birth control, why not let them?

Currently most of the responsibility for preventing pregnancy is on women. This really should be a decision that partners can make together. As I was cycling through all my options, it would have been wonderful if the men in my life could have also been trying all their options. Maybe I could have been saved a few migraines because he also found something that worked for us. It would have been wonderful if we could have found the best option for both of us.

Birth control technology has continued to evolve for women, but men have been given no new options since the development of condoms and the vasectomy in the mid to late 19th century. Why not give them another option or two or three? Research continues into a hormonal method. Additionally, there is promising research being done into a non-hormonal birth control for men.

No, this isn’t about saying men should suffer like women have. This is about saying we should all have the right to plan when and how we become parents. Yes, men too.

Talia Squires
Talia Squires is the editor in chief for bi.org. Talia has a degree in German Literature from Bryn Mawr College and a Master's in Critical Studies from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She's obsessed with good food, fantastic wine, and trashy television. She lives in LA with her husband and fluffy Lhasa Apso.