By Gabe Fernandez
University of Maryland students mostly disapprove of the decision to cancel clinical trials of a male birth control after participants reported side effects also found in female birth control, according to those interviewed.
In 2008, The World Health Organization commissioned clinical trials for an injection designed to serve as a birth control for men. The trials showed a 96 percent success rate in preventing pregnancy in the participants’ partners. But the Stage II trial was stopped after an independent panel found that the drug had too many side effects, according to study results released Oct. 27. Shianne Richardson, sophomore behavioral community health major, was not a fan of the double standard.
“When I first saw the headline, all I could think was ‘if they could stop this for men, then why is it still available to women,’” Richardson said. “Women live with getting called moody or emotional because of these natural reactions to the pill and they stop this for men because of the same thing? That doesn’t seem fair.”
The study cited the main side effects that caused men to drop from the study were major mood swings, depression and severe acne. However, all of these side effects are also found in users of women’s birth control pills, which is available for public purchase, according to Planned Parenthood. Nasreen Baten-Tschan, senior economics major, law and society minor, mentioned how her reaction towards the story only grew the more she read into the article.
“I wasn’t surprised that this kind of thing didn’t go through or that it got shut down at the first sign of trouble at first,” Baten-Tschan said. “I was kind of shocked the more I read into it. Being a woman and having a lot of cis-gendered woman friends, these side effects just kind of seem like things that come with taking hormonal birth control.”
A recent 13-year-long study found that women taking the combined contraceptive pill were 23 percent more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than those not on hormonal contraception. Adolescent girls on the pill were around twice as likely to use antidepressants.
Even those looking at this story from a male perspective, like Blaise Brennan, junior computer science major, saw a problem with the double standard. However, Brennan did note the story brought out a particular narrative and raised a couple questions for him.
“I thought it was weird how quickly the narrative became ‘haha boys are wimps,’” Brennan said. “The underlying complaint was important though: why are these side effects acceptable for women’s birth control? I’d like to know whether the men’s trials were comparable to current trials in women’s birth control. I’m also curious about whether male birth control could have been tested sooner if family planning wasn’t seen as an inherently female responsibility.”
Daniel Trettel, recent alumnus of Maryland, added to Brennan’s comments calling the results “ironic” because he noticed “how [the cancellation] goes against normal stereotypes of men as strong.”
“I also thought about how none of the men made the connection that ‘okay this must be how my wife or girlfriend feels, so it’s probably ok for me to stick this out,’” Trettel said.
In the CNN report about the study’s cancellation, Dr. Seth Cohen, a urologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, noted the negative effects of male hormonal birth control might make people open their eyes to what women have always been dealing with.
Anna Bella Sicilia, philosophy and history double major, said she thought these findings were “crucial” yet “depressing” because it went to show the ingrained sexism that surrounds birth control for women.
“I feel like most guys don’t have any idea what even the most privileged woman, someone like me, has to deal with just to be on birth control,” Sicilia said.
Sicilia went on to add how it certainly didn’t help that there was a societal expectation of women to be on birth control. In her opinion, women are caught in a lose-lose scenario where those who don’t use it are viewed as irresponsible, and those who do use it choose between non-ideal options that come with “some awful side effects,” which are difficult to deal with. However, she did not dismiss the issues the male participants had in the study.
“I agree with the men who dropped out,” Sicilia said. “Birth control is the worst. Welcome to the club.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of lookcatalog’s Flickr account.
Gabe Fernandez is a senior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.