The Contraceptive Burden

By Megan Cardy

A day in the life for the majority of the female population who are sexually active includes acne, muscle pain, depression, loss of libido and mood swings. These complaints are not at all uncommon, and are seen as unavoidable side effects of female contraceptives. Yet, these were some of the exact reasons that an alleged 96 percent successful male contraceptive trial was halted according to a recent article published in The Independent.

The development and availability of male contraceptives as an alternative to condoms is absolutely necessary. In long-term relationships, the almost completely one-sided obligation to protect couples from pregnancy falls onto the woman’s shoulders. Currently, male contraceptive methods focus purely around condoms which – although offered freely in sexual health clinics – can be unreliable, costly and easily misplaced. Not to mention rendered ineffective if stored incorrectly; either at high temperatures or in the pocket of a wallet.

By all means, if the contraceptive injection trial was indeed causing ill effects across the sample, it should have been taken as a sign that more research was needed. However, in the sample of 320 men, a mere 20 reported one or more of these complaints. Taking into account that half of these very same side effects are listed on the NHS website as simply ‘disadvantages’ of the female contraceptive, using the side effects as a reason to halt the trial becomes harder to justify. Despite the promising nature of this study — out of 266 couples, only four reported pregnancies — it was still deemed necessary to stop the trial.

The side-effects suffered by these 20 men from the trial were no doubt uncomfortable. It’s not fair to suggest that these men behaved selfishly. For anyone who had not been conditioned to think of these ailments as day-to-day hassles, the presence of the side effects would surely be distressing. It’s the fact that these side effects can be forced onto women due to lack of male alternatives and thought of as acceptable that triggers the issue.

Women’s discomfort and safety are simply not regarded with so much care. There is not a single form of female contraception available on the market today that does not carry the warning of developing a potentially dangerous condition. The female contraception injection carries the risk of thinning the bones. The combined pill can lead to thrombosis and has previously killed its users. The IUS can perforate the womb lining or lead to ectopic pregnancies—which, again, can prove life threatening.

Not to mention that aside from the mini pill, each method involves mild to moderate pain at the initial placement. If having the IUS fitted, women are able to request local anaesthetic – however, even this is not routinely offered. All of this information is clearly displayed on the NHS website not as warnings against these types of contraception, but in order to help women ‘decide which method might work best’.

It’s appalling that so little has been done to lift the disproportionate emphasis placed on female contraception methods and the resulting female burden. As this halted study into male alternatives illustrates, there is an unacceptable bias towards men’s convenience and safety when it comes to matters of family planning.


Megan Cardy

Featured image courtesy of Cosmopolitan

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