The recent trial of a men’s contraceptive pill has resulted in a 96 per cent success rate, heralding promises of a new form of contraception. Unlike the majority of birth control options, the new pill seeks to control the reproductive system of men not women, highlighting the gender bias in current birth control methods, where almost all methods place the onus on women. It is a woman’s responsibility to control pregnancy. It is a women’s responsibility to ensure contraceptive methods are administered successfully, and ultimately, it is a woman’s fault if they fail.
Implicit in the burden of responsibility is a belief that sex is inherently risky for women. By skewing all contraceptive devices away from men, medicine tells us that being sexually active in any sense puts women at risk of pregnancy. Scientifically, this is true. Engaging in unprotected sex does increase a woman’s chance of conceiving. But politically, they are giving men a hall-pass to treat sex as a risk-free activity, when the reality is far from that. The rate of conception increases exponentially the moment a male partner becomes involved; without one, sex carries no risk of pregnancy. Yet it is still a woman’s burden to bear.
Even the pharmaceutical industry has acknowledged the unwillingness of men to take responsibility for birth control by realising that there may not be much profitability in developing and distributing the male contraceptive pill. If equality really existed in the politics of sex, then surely the development of these products would be a potential windfall for Big Pharma.
The birth control product market is worth some $17 billion globally, and expanding their product range would only exacerbate this. Well, it would, if one gender were to properly engage in the responsibilities of birth control.
Contraceptive methods ought to be reconsidered to reconcile the current power imbalance. A dialogue between men and women ought to exist, where men also acknowledge their role in birth control.
The one downside of the trial is that some participants experienced mood swings and feelings of depression. The reality is that interfering with any person’s hormones to the extent of modifying reproductive processes can disrupt their system. The female birth control pill elicits mood swings, weight changes, and risks of depression too. For the longer-term, lower-obligation option, the Depo Provera birth control injection is available. The side effects of this injection are amplified and irreversible until the hormones wear off some months later. Women using these products are constantly exposed to the risk of depression, yet with the weight of preventing unwanted children on our shoulders, we endure it.
That is not to say that men need to start using the pill and deserve to experience the negative side effects of it. Contrary to the belief of some, not all women passionate about equality are man-haters. It is simply time that the politics of sex is played out fairly.
Starting a conversation about the burdens of birth control is critical, and that conversation should not only focus on the burdens experienced by men. Only then will we reduce the stigma surrounding birth control, and reduce some of the blatant bias towards women, which is entrenched by our current medical and pharmaceutical system.
Image: Bryan Calabro