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The male contraceptive: a viable alternative to the Pill?

It is a concept that has never entered public opinion because before now it seemed largely impossible, but recent research has led to the creation of a ‘male Pill’. Coming in the form of a nasal spray, tablet or injection that can be taken up to three days before sex, invading sperm cells and quite literally ‘switching them off’, there now seems to be the non intrusive form of male-only contraception that is 96 per cent effective. It is not yet out for production and is still going through medical trials but within the next year the ‘Male Pill’ could become a reality and a viable and cheap way for men to become responsible for their own birth control.

At the University of Edinburgh, when interviewed, a sample of second year students stated that although they liked the idea of having a more effective method of not getting their sexual partner pregnant, those not in long term relationships stated that they didn’t see themselves using a male pill, as the preferred method of a condom would give the protection against STIs that a pill wouldn’t.

The side effects of a male contraceptive will surely be well publicised in the media once a greater proportion of men start to take it (the number is estimated to have increased significantly by the end of 2017).  Yet what is already a certainty to the scientific community but is not discussed as often as it merits, is the negative effects of the female version on mental health.

‘The Pill’ – or combined oral contraceptive – has been in wide use in Britain since 1961 but ironically in the first few years it was only available to married women, in a decade where the loss of a woman’s virginity before marriage was common but not openly accepted by society. Single mothers were still perceived as ‘failures’, and back street or ‘coat hanger’ abortions lead to the deaths of around 200 young women women per year. Research for the ‘magic pill’ started in 1950 in the United States after a Catholic woman Margaret Sanger was deeply angered and grief stricken by the early death of her mother from the exhaustion of giving birth to 18 children. Thus, the Pill has been available on the NHS for over half a century but has only recently been proven to have a negative effect on mental health in certain patients.

In a study published earlier this year in Denmark, it was found that in 15-34 year olds, those on a combined hormonal pill (the most common form of the Pill in Britain often referred to as Revigedon) were 23% more likely to be prescribed antidepressants and in more extreme cases were reported as having suicidal tendencies.

An apparent oversight is that medical organisations worldwide do not warn patients of the increased risk of mental illness while taking the Pill, when scientific studies with huge volunteer numbers have shown a clear link. We are warned of the possible bodily affects, including weight gain and blood clots, yet not depression. This in turn appears to encapsulate the criticism some have that mental health care in Britain is considered less important than physical health.

One thing is certain, given that the Pill has been medically proven to give a young woman an increased risk of mental health complications, this should at least be included in the information given to her upon her initial visit to her GP to discuss her starting it.

Image: StevePB

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