I have to make an admission— sometimes I can just be the worst.
In once such instance I was alerted to the topic of male hormonal birth control trials and a recent study that was ended prematurely because the dudes who participated dropped out due to the side effects of weight gain, acne, and depression.
My first response: CRY ME A FUCKING RIVER.
Once every 26 days or so all those symptoms are just another goddamn Tuesday for me, and these men are totally unwilling to ensure the same symptoms I’ve endured for the past decade or more?
Blinding with self-justified rage, I was transported back to the tumultuous time in my early 20s when I was attempting to find the “right” birth control for me and my doctor was “sure” the Nuva Ring was right for me and a year or so later there are ants on the screen in my vision, just of out no where Dr. Awesome’s like, “LOL oops you’re gonna have a stroke if you don’t stop shoving that plastic circle up your twat.” Then the MD extraordinaire put me on something called the “mini pill.” Despite it diminutive name, this progestin only anti-stroke out pill had a very large effect on my body. I gained 20 pounds. Aunt Flo didn’t just come to politely visit, but was seemingly trying to move in. My vagina became the Ol’Faithful of menstrual blood— a steady stream of red tide ripping through the sturdiest of tampons and testing the absorbency of the largest, most diaper like maxi-winged pad I could find.
Oh yeah, and this constant barrage of monthly curse liquid would last for NINE FUCKING DAYS.
Also, I went insane.
I recall laying in bed, my tender breasts throbbing, watching and episode of the then, very hip Glee. I don’t remember exactly why this set me off, but there’s an episode where a deaf school comes to visit the singing kids and they do a silent choir in sign language or something? A moving scene for sure, but I began to weep. Violently, intensely, and intermittently for 72 hours. I was in grad school at the time and decided I was too stupid and I would drop out (ultimately didn’t thank goodness), I rode the subway crying, I went to the grocery store crying. I wasn’t sad about anything specific, although there were stresses in my life at the time, but making the connection in hindsight it was obvious my hormonal imbalance was giving me a one-way ticket to being known as the deranged lady eating a sundae at the corner of Dufferin and Bloor while large hot tears streamed down her face. A homeless man asked me what was wrong.
After THAT, I was referred to a gynaecologist who looked and sounded like the Dyson Ball Vacuum guy, who recommended I get a Mirena IUD. I waited six weeks for the appointment where it was inserted. The cramps were so bad I threw up the muscle relaxant they had given me and stayed in bed for three days. After that, my boyfriend at the time refused to have sex with me until I got the strings shortened because he could, quote, “feel them.”
Another six weeks for that appointment. (But I’m in Canada, so it was FREE. Although the IUD was not)
This was the same ex-BF who would not, under any circumstances, have sex with me while my crimson curse was punishing me for my inherent wickedness (9 days out of the month!). So there I was, 24 years old, in pain, feeling bloated, desperate, and unfuckable.
BUT I DIDN’T HAVE A BABY! Or an abortion. It was all in MY control. That was pretty dope. (Not that there’s anything wrong with people who decide on those things.)
Fast forward to present day, when my IUD is working great (on my second: no crazies, no weight gain, no Niagara Fall level menses) and I am examining with a critical eye the idea that men— who have not historically had to bear the burden of pregnancy and child care the way that women have—are presented with undergoing the same medieval torture I went through and to a certain, albeit less intense, level with my more natural hormonal rhythms. Like, IT’S YOUR TURN FUCKERS.
Do I want to have a world where men and women, when deciding to have intercourse with one another, are able to have a reasoned and civil dialogue wherein they can decide what the best method of birth control is for both of them?* Yes. Do I want there to be the same number of options for men as there are for women? Absolutely. Do I want the decision to be, okay so one of us has to suffer physically and mentally? Fucking… No.
I’m not a doctor, but I have seen all of House and most of Grey’s Anatomy, AND I have access to the internet, so I’ve basically deduced three major conclusion based on super scientific facts.*
1) You’re Fucking Welcome Dudes
The birth control pill was seen as part of the sexual revolution and empowerment of women, which is most certainly was and continues to be. However, like most revolutions, there were some causalities, and there still issues to be hammered out.
The creation of the female birth control has a very fraught, radicalized, and unethical history. Like the men in this recent study, the women who first tried the initial iterations of hormonal birth control complained of the same side effects and dropped out, the creators were like, yeah okay, so let’s go down to Puerto Rico where the eugenics movement is just a-okay and experiment on those chicks. When they faced those silly ladies who didn’t know what was good for them complaining about pains and what-not (often taking medication that has TEN TIMES the amount of hormones in the pills of today) so they decide to FORCE women to take the pill,
Women locked up at a Massachusetts mental asylum were signed up. Women enrolled in medical school in San Juan were told they had to take part in the medical test or face expulsion.” Again, these women weren’t told what the pill was for; instead, they were supposed to shut up, take their medicine, and submit to frequent, invasive medical exams.” (Broadly.com)
After this fuckery, the whole “People kinda need to know what doctors are putting in their bodies” thing became a law. Perhaps we wouldn’t have had the birth control pill as early as we do now, but we certainly wouldn’t have a system where the experimentation on men has allowed for informed consent.
I’ll concede at the time in history before there was hormonal birth control for women it was practically barbaric. Botched abortions whole hysterectomies, poor women forced to have litters of children they couldn’t possibly adequately care for. I feel that the social and medical focus on first figuring out how to give women the tools to have autonomy and control over their own bodies and destinies was not misguided, but the practices and “necessary evils” enacted to get there are pretty gruesome (in one instance, three women died in one study and their bodies NEVER autopsied for the reasons why).
In terms of human rights and scientific study — it’s pretty fucking rad these men were able to say the side effects were just too much and have the medical community be like, “Okay bro, no prob.”
2) The Side Effects for Men are Experienced Very Differently
A trial for male hormonal birth control (given as shots) consisted of an injection every eights weeks of a synthetic form of testosterone and norethisterone enanthate. Which is a lot like the female hormones progesterone and estrogen referred to as “progestin” in the synthetic form,
According to Dr. Seth Cohen, a urologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, when a man is given a shot of testosterone, “basically, the brain assumes the body is getting enough,” so the body shuts down its own production of testosterone — specifically “the testicle’s production of testosterone as well as the testicle’s production of sperm.” (CNN.com)
The basic principles of the birth control methods are the same— it’s all about tricking the body. So it makes perfect sense the side effects would be similar.
I have a dear friend in her 60s who talked with me about post-menopausal life. She talked about how the subsiding of hormonal influxes (after all the bad stuff) lead her to a clearer, more balanced state. “Is this how men feel all the time?” she quipped.
Statically speaking men don’t experience the same ebbs and flows of hormones that women do. So asking men to take a medication that alters their state so wholly and unrecognizable is, for the lack of a better term, probably a mind fuck.
Like, you don’t have weird food cravings and intermittently bloated and/or like 10 pounds heavier? You don’t get the sads or sleepies for no reason? Guess it would be super sucky to get them for the first time in your life.
Additionally, depression (one of the side effects) in men is a wholly different, if not medical issue, certainly a societal one. In Canada, men are three times more likely to commit suicide compared to women . Perhaps its because men aren’t given the social space to talk about their feelings? Maybe there is a conflict between the notion of masculinity and “strength”? Could be just the ubiquitous social stigma surrounding mental health? It’s possible there are multitude factors at play.
However, one this is certain is that depression seems to have far more deadlier consequences for men.
3) Hormonal Birth Control Is Just Not Good Enough – But Working Together Maybe It Can Be
There was a recent study that correlated depression and the use of the pill in women.
All the anecdotal evidence that has been littered throughout my life, the very fact that many of my female friends do not take the pill for its fuckery, and my own personal experience had me reacting to these “findings” with no surprise whatsoever. That’s some 60 years after the pill has been in the market. It’s at the same time substantial findings about male hormonal birth control are being published.
So if women feel the same and men feel the same, maybe this might be something to like, investigate? ‘Cause we should all be mentally and physically healthy?
I see the men dropping out of a study where they have adverse side effects as a gift, not a testament any kind of weakness on behalf of the participants. What it suggests to me is that it is time to take a good hard look on what science is doing to actively improve what we can do to get busy without making people.
The knee-jerk reaction to say, “BUT IT’S YOUR TURN TO SUFFER PENIS HAVER” is temptingly cathartic, but instead a more useful tactic for my time and energy is to work with the information from both sides to create a better world for everyone.