“An injection to the bollocks?” Says my boyfriend, going slightly green. “Not ideal”. He has a point, the new method of contraception to hit the headlines doesn’t sound particularly savoury. Then again, I don’t know any women who enjoy their quarterly hormonal injection into the bumcheek. Or who luxuriate in the nausea, breast tenderness, constant bleeding and suicidal thoughts that can come with the contraceptive pill. Having a copper coil inserted into the cervix is, I’ve heard, a veritable thrill.
It is easy to bemoan men for not taking their fair share of contraception (3.5 million women in the UK use hormonal contraceptives – and usage of the pill alone outnumbers male condom use). Other than condoms or vasectomies, however, men have very little choice. Of course it is unfair that of the 15 contraceptive methods suggested by the NHS, only two are for men. So why isn’t more being done to level the playing field? Why are women overwhelmingly responsible for ensuring that their eggs remain unfertilised, when it is men who are constantly fertile? It is time for men to assume greater responsibility. After all, it takes two to procreate.
For the past two decades, countless medical journals have promised new male contraceptives, but they have never materialised. In the summer of 2016, trials of a male contraceptive were halted after its participants reported acne, weight gain, and mood swings. Critics were quick to point out that women have been enduring the pill’s adverse side effects for 50 years without sending it back to the drawing board. Sarah Walker, senior research fellow in Sexual Health at Anglia Ruskin University, suggested that for women, the health risks of pregnancy far outweigh those of taking the pill, so they are negated in favour of not getting pregnant. Because men can’t get pregnant, there is no incentive to outweigh the adverse physical effects (other than avoiding the time, lifestyle change, financial and emotional responsibility of fathering a child). Men have no gain for their pain.
Men shouldn’t have to endure the bloating, spots, tears, and aggression that can come with the pill. But neither should women. The be-uterused half of the population shouldn’t have had to endure half a century of negative side effects because it was favourable to pushing eight pounds of screaming human out of their vaginas.
New male contraceptives will never materialise until they are side effect free. For women, research isn’t being facilitated to reduce the adverse effects of a pill market worth over $13bn. After the pill’s founder, Carl Djerassi, died in 2015, he was widely praised for the autonomy that his invention provided women, enabling a huge advancement in women’s rights which cannot be ignored. Women gained bodily autonomy and could prioritise work over having children. But now it’s time for shared responsibility and something new.
For men, the latest contraception in the, ahem, pipeline is a gel injection into the sperm tubes, Vasalgel. Administered through the scrotum under local anaesthetic, the gel provides a sort of Selective Spunk Dam (not official terminology) that prevents sperm from passing down the penis, but releases all the other gunk to prevent a painful blockage. The procedure would be reversible after a second injection to break down the barrier. So far it’s proved successful in monkeys, and in years to “cum” could prove to be a game-changer for men.
All that is needed now is for men to make some noise. Several of my male friends said that they were not happy with their partners suffering the pill’s side effects. While they found condoms generally less enjoyable, they were all amenable to the idea of alternate male contraceptives. One friend, a 30-year-old feminist and proud penis-owner said: “Serious work needs to be done on the female pill to reduce its negative effects. It was created by lazy men who didn’t care about what it would do to women’s bodies. In this day and age, men should care more.” Outside of my left-wing, millennial bubble, studies have shown that at least 50% of men are interested in new contraceptive methods. It’s time they made that known. Until women shout loudly enough about their suffering, and men shout loudly enough about wanting to rein in their sperm, nothing will change.