Every night at 10 p.m., a reminder sounds off on my phone. I turn it off, identify what day it is, squeeze out a pill that corresponds to it and pop it quicker than someone can say, ‘Stop! That’s going to make you sick.’ Then I prepare myself for the inevitable bout of light nausea I will experience a few hours later. Over four years of my taking Diane 35, i’ve learned this is one of the most acceptable side-effects. Some friends have experienced everything from cyst formations to deep chemical depressions–both were suspected to have been caused by the oral contraception–while other ‘luckier’ ones suffered simpler things like weight gain and migraines.
For women, this kind of unpredictable pill-popping along with IUDs, shots, and implants have long since been a part of our daily lives. The price we must pay to avoid unwanted pregnancies via sexual liberation, perhaps. But with the reality of effective male contraceptives on the market looming closer than ever before, we seem to be at the dawn of a new era. One which might change our sex lives forever.
India is more relevant to this conversation than most. Considering, we’re on the brink of having the highest population in the world, it’s about time we expanded the rhetoric that currently surrounds contraception, maybe even level the playing field a little. This is a conversation that begins with examining why the onus of avoiding pregnancy automatically falls on the woman - is it not the shared responsibility of both partners choosing to have sex with each other?
A comprehensive article on a new male contraception being invented in rural India spoke of a study which stated “While the injected regimen’s efficacy was “relatively good” compared to other methods, the study was terminated early after a safety review. The authors noted a “relatively high” frequency of mild to moderate mood disorders” experienced by users. This kicked off a large debate about the double standards of the industry, as women have also been subject to similar if not worse side-effects. Yet, the pill stands to be at the forefront of contraception for women - inserting an IUD is no casual affair, let alone taking it out. With the information that Vasagel, a non-hormonal male contraceptive pill ready to enter US markets by 2018 - 2020, we took the liberty of envisioning a world in which shared responsibility was the norm.
But, like any other form of contraception, there are certain legitimate concerns this poses. Trust, for one. You would have to truly trust your partner to take the contraception, which is visibly different from seeing a condom on, knowing your IUD is in place or simply the fact that you took your pill at the right time. Secondly, is it almost vindictive to pass the buck onto men when women have known the effect the pill has had - physiologically and psychologically. Should we be pushing, instead, for non-hormonal, non-invasive contraception for women and men so that they remain in control of what happens to their bodies?
Riveted with questions, we went on to ask our male readers across social media platforms whether or not they would take contraception, and we’ve have listed some of the best responses we got below. It must be noted that while not a conclusive sample of the Indian audience at large, our readers on average seem to be quite open to the idea of male contraception. We wonder whether they will stand by their word if they actually took the pill and experienced its effects first hand. To read what all our followers had to say on the subject, go to our post on Instagram here.
I. “I don’t support women or men playing around with their hormonal cycles unless extreme emergencies. Condoms, vasectomies and IUDs are more reliable.” - @credosian
II. “I am not a pill person so I would rather go for other procedures. And I will not like my partner to take the pills as well, as it damages our body from inside.” - @mayank.23
III. “I’ve always been against it for women personally, so it’s really hard to say. But if I had to choose between me or the women. I would choose the male since we don’t reproduce and it’s a better idea that the women stays away from the side effects so it doesn’t affect her reproductive process in the future.” - Raa Chabb
IV. “Pills for the heart, and pills for the head, I’ll take pills for safe sex in the bed” - Arman Menzies
V. “So I’m re-commenting as my earlier response was less thoughtful. So here goes, I honestly find the idea of being this creature that shoots out microscopic parasitic larvae who become future humans to be a bit disturbing especially if it’s unintended. Comparatively I feel the system in a woman’s body that can produce an entire being or beings capable of being world leaders or whatever we become when we grow up to be mindblowingly complex. Having said that the male testicle is just a factory, a unit of raw and comparatively less sophisticated manufacture as compared to the female body where brains and a whole body comes into being. So I do think a pill for men rather than women makes more sense anyway and it probably should have been this way to begin with.” - Sachin S Pillai
VI. “For one, I don’t consider the pill to be protection beyond contraceptive use. Second - if prevalent statistics are to be believed, condoms are 98% and pills 99.9% effective *if used correctly*. That leaves us with a 1.9% tradeoff that I personally think goes in the favour of condoms, when you take side effects - known in the short term and unknown in the long term - into account. I’ve been against the use of the pill by women for a fairly simple reason - it’s only been around for 50 years, widespread use for far less, and the implications on systems that interact with the endocrine system is probably not clear, including but not limited to psychological effects. This is also my problem with SSRIs (and MAOIs even more so) being prescribed with random abandon.
From a moral standpoint, I’ve been a firm believer that the male should bear the responsibility of contraception without imposing the need for oral contraceptives/UIDs on the woman. If she chooses to use them of her own volition, there should be enough research and control in place to keep the hormonal household in check. I stick to this belief system. To take things a step further, I feel a bit alarmed by the fact that the discourse around the question is dangerously reductionist, perhaps even representative of the fallacies that plague media consumption, especially for younger consumers, in general - particularly in a post-information age where we rarely stop to chew, swallow or digest the byte we’re consuming before offering a reaction to it.
My counter: just because it’s there, do we *have* to consume it? Given the facts that are available about the dangers and side effects of female oral contraceptives, is there any *objective* virtue in suggesting that males go through with the same? Seeing that the reproductive systems in each gender are drastically different, are the teratogenic/mutagenic effects of male (or even female) contraceptives known - and dumbed down into simple language for those of us who don’t understand the biology behind them? With a contraceptive available that is fairly cheap, biocompatible, non-teratogenic, non-mutagenic, does not affect the hormonal balance, biodegradable, and highly efficient - and still being developed further with newer, better materials - I see a clear winner here. TL;DR - I stick with what I said above.” - Aditya Nandwana
VII. “The idea of taking medicine which might have side effects makes me queasy. But that is nowhere close to the hardships of an unwanted pregnancy. I have read that extensive trials on various varieties of male contraceptives are in progress and I would most definitely like to give them a try. I don’t believe birth control and safe sex is the burden of women alone, and that it’s time for men to step up and shirk their privilege of ignorance. Even if you’re not comfortable with new methods, only an idiotic jerk would refuse to wear a condom.” - Devang Pathak
VIII. “Male contraception is bound to make a lot of guys happy. Being able to control the when, if and who you become a partner is a big deal, but you can expect their partners to smile too. Contraception should be a shared responsibility, and it’s obviously not the fault of men that women have wombs to regulate, and the side-effects are often pretty grim. For women, it will be life changing to have men help out in the contraceptive department, with a method apart than condoms. If men were to experience some of the side-effects too, it would ultimately lead to both sexes gaining a greater understanding and appreciation of each other. It’s exciting how Science could be about to give men the opportunity to be more involved than ever. This could be a total game changer. A new form of male contraception could change lives, relationships, and sex for all of us.” - @rishistoni
IX. “Women go through so much pain after oral contraceptives. If we could take that from them, I’d be glad to.” - @moksh_._
X. “Men’s umbrella is probably the best way to avoid transmitting seeds. Call me old school but that’s the fact.” @zypher_shunya_zero
This conversation is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are interested in sharing stories about shared responsibility for reproductive and sexual health, as well as ideas for the same, we’ll be taking this subject up in many ways. Write in to us at [email protected] with “Shared Sexual Health” as the subject - would love to hear more thoughts!
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