In an age where more possibilities for male contraception are on the horizon, should men be taking more responsibility for protection against STI’s and pregnancy?
Words by Georgia Pearce
The daily routine of taking a contraceptive pill is something 1 in 4 women in the UK alone have all grown accustomed to. The natural responsibility thrown upon women to be the ones providing protection against STI’s and prevention of pregnancy has been the norm since the 1950’s when the pill was first invented.
And although it is said things are changing for male methods in 2016, the attitudes are not.
Women currently have 13 options whereas men only have 2, one of them a vasectomy. Women are now so used to taking on the side effects of weight gain, headaches and mood swings that they may as well have the blood clots, heart attacks and strokes that we risk having when taking the pill long term. Surely it is time for men to have their own contraceptive pill?
In an anonymous poll, just fewer than 54% of single men aged between 18-25 said they rely on women to be the provider of contraception. However, nearly 70% of those same men said they would take a contraceptive pill if there was one on the market. Is this a sign men want to take more responsibility?
Couple Charlotte Hook, 21, and Jonathan Abbiw, 24, have been together for 5 years. They opened up about their relationship with each other and with contraception, and their opinions of responsibility in relationships.
“When we first started dating, we used condoms because we weren’t using any other form of contraception. A few months later I decided to go on the pill because I wanted that extra precaution. I also had become allergic to the material of condoms so I had to stop using them.”
But not too long after Charlotte starting taking the pill, her body reacted badly to the oestrogen levels. She now has the progesterone only pill.
“We went back to using condoms, which wasn’t pleasant for her. It would have been good to have had a male pill at that time, because I could have taken it knowing Charlottes’ problems. I think responsibility should always be between both parties.”
I feel like it’s great to share responsibility but I would always still take my own precautions because at the end of the day if anything goes wrong, it’s my body that has to deal with the consequences.”
Jonathan says that if there was a pill out there for guys, it would most likely only be used by men in relationships. “Some guys hate condoms and avoid them at all costs. So it would allow for an alternative method with better chance of avoiding pregnancy than something like the pull out method. There also won’t be a problem with communication about protection with couples. Single guys wouldn’t bother. If they were on a night out and took a girl home, they could lie about having taken it.”
Charlotte believes unless a new method also prevented STI’s, it wouldn’t appeal to the young single market.
“Hopefully as society changes, their attitudes towards contraception responsibility would too. I think there should be more alternatives, but it will take a while for men to get used to them.”
With hope for a male pill to finally be available, studies into other methods have so far proven successful. Vasalgel, a polymer gel injection into the vas deferens (otherwise known as the tube that carries sperm) is said to last up to a year and is beginning human trials in the next year.
Elaine Lissner, executive director of the Parsemus Foundation, explained “men are already using the only two contraceptives they have in great numbers. Men need more options to be able to take more responsibility. Vasectomy is permanent, and condoms are not foolproof. A reversible, reliable long-term method would meet a big need.”
If Vasalgel progresses to clinical trials, she hopes it can break the cultural paradigm of women being the bearers of contraception. “We used to talk about men ‘sharing the burden’ of contraception. But these days, many men talk about wanting ‘control.’ Men want to control their own destinies. We delude ourselves by thinking that condoms are enough – long-term methods need to be part of the picture too.”
However, Jonathan feels men would rather not commit.
“Something lasting up to a year could be an issue if circumstances changed and you wanted a child. It would be more suited to older couples who don’t want a vasectomy. A year is too long a commitment for me, and I’m sure other guys my age feel the same.”
John Guillebaud is an emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health at University College London. He has been involved in over 300 publications regarding birth control for men and women. He believes another option for men can be beneficial. “When it comes to contraception, choice is a good thing. When I started in this field of medicine there were only 8 methods of contraception in total.”
A contraceptive that made a man temporarily infertile would be of enormous benefit to many couples. Especially those where the woman cannot take the pill for medical reasons.”
John also believes the idea that contraception is a women’s issue is a harsh truth. Women by nature have been designed to be the gender that carries babies. It automatically makes them more likely to take contraception. Men can have sex whether contraception is used or not, and women can’t.
“A man could take the pill for 6 months and his partner could take her pill for the next 6 months. That’s why I am such a supporter of male pills. Women can’t trust men to take something because they are likely to lie about it. Especially single men with no commitment to a woman, let alone a pill or an implant.”
Nearly 70% of poll respondents aged between 18 -25 said they would like more contraceptive choices. With more research and a changed perspective, the playing field of contraceptive options may just be levelled out for future generations.
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