Women around the world were thrown in to fits of side-splitting laughter earlier this week after media reported that a clinical trial for an “extremely effective” form of male contraceptive was closed after men in the study didn’t like the side effects, which included depression, acne outbreaks, mood swings, changes in libido and weight gain. The news was published by researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. They found that the injection has a 96 percent rate of success, only slightly lower than birth control pills do for women.
Heatstreet reporter Kieran Corcoran, like many others, were put off by women’s responses. “Commentators lined up to mock weak-willed men for bailing on a trial,” he wrote. “Reporters covering this – many of whom likely did not trouble themselves with actually reading the study ... neglected to mention that some consequences were actually quite serious.” Among those serious consequences was the lowering of sperm counts and, in one man, possible irreversible infertility.
No one is mocking the dangerous side effects of hormonal birth control, least of all women, who have been subjected to them for decades. Women are laughing because we are fed up and angry that double standards continue to define our lives. Our collective reflexive disdain comes from exasperation with not being taken seriously when we say that we are experiencing side effects, having pain or demanding better health care. It comes from having to deal with side effects while people call you a bitch, moody and irrational or, maybe, trivialize real harms.
Laughter over this study does several things that women seem uniformly in need of at the moment. First, it is a sign of solidarity as we live what sometimes feels like the worst of a horrible national frat party. Second, laughing is healthy and strengthens bonds that we are rarely allowed to talk about publicly, like those related to having had to live with managing birth control forever. Third, laugher is many women’s go-to and socially palatable substitute for something many men might really not like, aggression and anger.
The smirking, eye-rolling and guffaws aren’t, “Oh, look, it’s funny that you feel sick and might not be able to reproduce when you decide to.” It’s more along the lines of, “WTF? Do men really not understand what women have been dealing with for fifty years now?”
Every week during the many years I used birth control pills, I looked at the endlessly long small print descriptions of side effects that included page after page of deadly risks. There were many of them and, in possible severity, they far exceeded the possibility that I might be nauseous or rendered infertile. It was regularly scary. I would occasionally hand the origami document to my spouse so that he could read them. Despite his sympathy, and our looking for good alternatives, there were really very few viable ones with as high a rate of controlling pregnancy. Other choices had similarly and sometimes even more risky undesirable side effects. The IUD, for example, can perforate a woman’s uterus or result in toxic and deadly sepsis.
I’m guessing that most men don’t know much about women’s birth control side effects and don’t really care. For many still, the question they have to consider, more or less, is whether or not an update of a 12,000-year-old sheep-skin technology is worth the $2.00 price tag and trip to the store. As a matter of fact, it’s not so much a guess. I’ve spent years asking and last year, Buzzfeed did the same thing, producing a video, How Much to Guys Know About Birth Control, with results that, while funny, are actually pretty appalling. For women, acquiring safe and affordable birth control usually means spending time and money and making multiple trips to doctor and then a pharmacy. At any point, multiple people have the power to deny a woman, based on their own opinions, effective and safe choices.
In the U.S., roughly 10.6 million women take hormonal birth control pills every day. The side effects they can expect to deal with, usually without saying anything, include
- degradations of vision,
- mood swings,
- weight gain,
- vaginal discharge,
- missed periods,
- additional periods,
- decreases in libido,
- breast tenderness,
- and feeling like they want to vomit.
Those are the minor ones. The serious ones include:
- the risk of blood clots and stroke,
- sustained anxiety and depression,
- possible higher risks of cervical and breast cancers,
- migraine headaches,
- diseases of the gallbladder and heart (such as heart attacks and strokes),
- a higher risk of liver tumors,
- painful yeast infections and,
- a decrease in bone density.
There is no opting out of studies or risky options when you desperately don’t want to be pregnant in a country that continues, in many states and in Congress, to do its utmost best to make pregnancy compulsory. In addition, studies and life show that risks to men’s health are treated more seriously by the medical profession. As The Atlantic’s Julie Beck pointed out today, “A woman using Liletta has a higher chance of experiencing the same side effects than a man using the injectable birth control that was deemed too risky. The standards are different.”
Feeling put out because women are enjoying a good belly laugh? Meh.
The researchers found that despite the risks, and the ending of the study, roughly 80 percent of the participating men said that they would willingly use the shot.