Adverse effects should motivate new research in birth control

Women too frequently experience societal double standards often led by hegemonic masculine ideals. The recent controversy over the temporary halt of men’s birth control research due to its medical side effects reveals not only that women experience sexism in healthcare, but also that men’s and women’s reproductive health needs further contemporary research. A study published on Thursday Oct. 27 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism observed overall success in pregnancy prevention by use of a male hormonal birth control injection. The researchers terminated the study early, however, due to some participants experiencing uncomfortable side effects from the birth control.

The study went viral both for its precedent in the future market of men’s birth control, but also for backlash against the proclaimed “mild” side effects that men experienced. The most common side effects of the injection were generally normal, including injection site pain, increased libido and acne. The more serious side effects of the injection—such as severe depression and damage to fertility—are not discussed as often in the current debate about men’s versus women’s birth control side effects.

Uncomfortable side effects are all too common for women who take hormonal birth control pills. Birth control pills can worsen depression in women, cause painful periods, mood swings, headaches and—in more serious cases—fatal blood clots.

Many Facebook and Twitter users circulated the study, adding indignant comments about the gender double standard within reproductive health. Many women shared their personal stories about uncomfortable or severe birth control side effects, expressing frustration that women have endured these effects for decades, yet men could not even bear them just for a research study.

There is a logical argument for women’s frustration over the comparison of birth control side effects. There is a long history of women receiving healthcare clouded by casual sexism, as seen through the difficult and politically-charged abortion process and the refusal of privately-owned companies to fund contraceptives to employees.

Women, historically, have been expected to take responsibility for their sexual decisions and contraceptives more seriously than men. Additionally, women are usually more shamed or ostracized if an unwanted pregnancy occurs.

While it is understandable that women are angry that research for men’s birth control has been deemed too harsh for men—side effects that women’s birth control pills have caused for decades—the study can be used in a positive way to improve all contraceptives.

The serious effects of men’s birth control—such as depression and decreased fertility—should not be overlooked, just as the serious effects of women’s birth control—also depression and fatal blood clots—should not be overlooked. The reaction of researchers to the side effects of men’s birth control should be applied to women’s birth control as well.

Researchers and medical professionals should use this public reaction to fund studies that research better birth control options for both men and women. If both hormonal methods cause side effects, one’s effects should not be considered harsher than the other. New research studying the severe side effects of birth control would be beneficial for the overall reproductive health of the country, which has been lacking in recent years.

It is frustrating that men often don’t take women’s health and pain seriously—that is, unless men endure the same pain. This situation is parallel to the argument that if men menstruated, then employers would allow designated sick days every month. Once we identify the societal double standards, however, we can build an argument for equally researching and developing healthier contraceptives for future generations.