The Absence of the Male Birth Control Pill
Dear Asian Youth,
Last year, I was prescribed birth control pills. Ah, yes, birth control: the tiny, mysterious pill with a huge dose of hormones. The gynecologist told me that I might experience several side effects, including but not limited to: migraines, weight gain, mood changes, irregular menstrual bleeding, dizziness, abdominal pain, fatigue, blood clots, breast swelling, painful yeast infections, nausea, infertility, and death. Okay, so I was kidding about the death part, but it’s not like the other side effects aren’t serious. That day, I went home with my neatly packaged blue baggy, giddy about the prospect of becoming a “real woman”. Little did I know, I would forget to take the pill at least twice a week (which, to be quite honest, I was to blame). I would experience breast swelling, nausea, and migraines. I would snap at my friends for no apparent reason. And at those moments, I couldn’t help but wonder why I, alone, bore the responsibility of taking the pill everyday? Why don’t men have birth control pills readily available to them? In a world where men too often dictate what women should do with their bodies, it wasn’t surprising to me when I realized women hold the primary responsibility for sexual health in a male-female relationship.
Let’s set a few things straight. I understand that birth control pills have their benefits. For women, they can regulate menstrual cycles, cure hormonal acne, and relieve period pains. However, for women who just don’t want babies, this burden seems unfair in comparison to a man’s responsibility (or rather, the lack thereof). But what about condoms? Men are using condoms as a contraception! Indeed, but condoms are cheap and safe to use. They offer little side effects in comparison to the hormonal birth control pill. Standing at an 85% success rate compared to the pill’s 99%, condoms are also less effective than the pill because it is often misused. As a result, the burden to prevent pregnancies often falls into the woman’s hands.
With taking the pill comes the financial liability of prescription. According to Planned Parenthood, birth control pills typically cost between $0-$50 per month; this means that it could add up to $600 a year. That’s $600 many American women can’t afford to spare, especially considering that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. In addition, just the mere idea of having to take a pill everyday at the same time makes birth control sound like an unappealing option. Dedicating the time to visit a gynecologist, pick up the prescription at a CVS, then face protestors telling me contraceptives go against their religious views? Nah, I think I’ll pass.
In 2016, feminists all around the world received a glimpse of hope when a study found that an injectable form of male birth control was both effective and reversible. However, the study was quickly dropped when the men involved complained about their side effects. They reported acne, fatigue, mood swings, and increased libido. Guess what? Women have been experiencing the same side effects, or arguably worse side effects, for 60 years now. We are expected to “just suck it up”, a clear reflection of the power dynamics in our society.
Fortunately, in 2019, we saw another study alluding to the potential of the male birth control pill. In a research study conducted by the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, 30 men ranging from ages 18 to 50 took an oral pill mixed with testosterone and progesterone for 28 days. At the end of the study, the blood hormone tests revealed that the pill could suppress both sperm and testosterone production, meaning it had succeeded in preliminary testing! But even then, Dr. Christina Wang, the lead researcher at LA BioMed, says that such forms of birth control are more than a decade away from being commercially available.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to get rid of birth control for women. Rather, I am advocating for an oral contraceptive to be designed for men, while still keeping this option available to women. It is time for men, too, share the responsibility for contraception - they are, afterall, half the population and half the equation to creating a child (who would’ve known!). On the other hand, the lack of control men may feel in regards to fertility in a sexual relationship may be resolved with the development of male birth control, opening a door for them to become more active in family planning.
During a time when the Trump Administration is working tirelessly to chip away at our reproductive rights and our freedom to choose, it is imperative for men to step up and become more involved. As the 60th anniversary of the female birth control pill approaches, it’s time that we welcome the 1st anniversary of the male birth control pill.
- Stephanie Hu
P.S.: While we wait for the development of the male pill, couples in a male-female relationship could engage in open discussions in an effort to share equal responsibility :)