IMPORTANT: The society we live in uses cissexist language to discuss birth control. In order to engage with the topic in this society, this article uses that same language. This in no way reflects my view on gender. Genitals do not equal gender. A man can have a vagina, and a woman can have a penis.
You've probably already seen the many, many articles on the birth control trial for men. If you haven't, here's the gist: 320 men between the ages of 18 to 45 were given injections every eight weeks to lower their sperm count. Scientists were hoping to create a safe, reversible birth control option for men. However, the study was halted early after men reported side effects. These side effects were: acne, injection site pain, increased libido, and mood disorders. So, why are so many people up in arms about this study? Let's break it down.
First, we have the women who have used/are using the pill, an IUD, or injections. Most of the side effects experienced by the men in this study are side effects that women have to deal with no matter what type of contraception she chooses. For the pill, side effects include nausea, weight gain, sore breasts, spotting between periods, and mood changes. The mood changes are incredibly significant because one man committed suicide during the study. This is incredibly concerning. Although the mood swings women experience are noted to not be as bad as those of the men in the study, we also need to remember that women's pain, physical or mental, is not taken as seriously as men's pain. Depression has been a side effect of women's birth control, and women have had suicidal thoughts while using it. Neither gender should be subjected to that pain.
A lot of women are outraged that these side effects were deemed OK for them, but not for men. Not to mention that three women died during the first trial of women's birth control and the deaths were never investigated. The doctor that administered the study thought the side effects were not acceptable, but the developers decided that the safety of women was less important than the need for birth control. Now, to be crystal clear, I don't think men should take birth control with crappy side effects. I've been on the pill and currently have an IUD, and I wouldn't wish any of the ill side effects on my worst enemy. However, women have the right to be pissed about this. It is not fair at all, and it looks like we will have to continue shouldering the majority of risk and responsibility when it comes to birth control.
The second group of angry internet patrons includes the men who are responding to women's outrage at halting the study. They are adamant that the side effects are too much to ask of them, and I agree. I don't think these side effects are acceptable for anyone. It is also easier to stop a single egg than a million sperm.
What men fail to understand is that they have a huge privilege in this situation. Men live in a world where the burden of birth control is placed almost exclusively on women in heterosexual relationships. Of course, there is the male condom, but aside from making sex less enjoyable for some men, it really isn't that hard to obtain or to use. Plus, men really don't have much to lose if they impregnate someone. Sure, they have to provide financial support to the child if the mother decides to carry the pregnancy to term, but other than that, they really don't have much to worry about. Women, on the other hand, have much more of a stake in it. If she doesn't want the child, she has to get an abortion, which can be nearly impossible depending on where you live, your financial status and your access to emotional support. If a woman decides to have the child, she has to go through the entire ordeal of being pregnant and giving birth, and childbirth can actually be pretty dangerous. This isn't to say that men can't be supportive, loving partners during an unintended pregnancy, because they can. But it simply isn't their body at stake.
So, how exactly do we move forward?
Unfortunately, I have no great solution. The burden of birth control will remain with women for the foreseeable future. The only advice I have to give is about anger. We can't be angry at the men for dropping out. If a person isn't comfortable taking a medication, they should NOT be forced to continue. However, women can be angry that their pain has been deemed less important than the benefits of birth control. Our well-being matters too.