The latest advancement on the road to contraceptive equality? A new prototype pill, tested in a small trial by researchers at the University of Washington, has been found to be effective and safe, avoiding common side effects including low sex drive and liver damage.
Until now, scientists have been unable to create a pill to rival that available to women because men metabolise and clear out the hormones it delivers more quickly. But with the latest pill, known by the chemical name dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU), researchers have overcome previous problems associated with male hormonal pills.
100 men aged 18-50 who took part in the month-long trial showed no fatigue or loss of sex drive
Like most contraceptive pills available to women, DMAU contains a combination of hormones – an androgen such as testosterone, and a progestin. While it's still in the early stages, the 100 men aged 18-50 who took part in the month-long trial showed no fatigue or loss of sex drive. “Despite having low levels of circulating testosterone, very few subjects reported symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency or excess," said Stephanie Page, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Of course, why women should have had to bear the responsibility for oral contraception when sex is a two-person activity, is a question feminists have been asking – and campaigning to rectify – since it became available on the NHS in 1961.
While the benefits of the pill for women obvious – not least, it allows us a certain level of sexual freedom and gives us control over our fertility – certain hormonal contraceptive pills have been linked to everything from breast cancer to depression and other mental health issues, and in rare cases, even premature death.
Not to mention common side effects such as mood swings, cramps, sore breasts, headaches, migraines, weight gain, heavy and painful periods or missed periods.
What women really think about the male contraceptive pill
In spite of the fact that a male pill could liberate women from these unpleasant symptoms, not everyone is convinced of its potential merits. Judging by the results of a straw poll posted on Refinery29's UK Twitter account, most women wouldn't trust their partners to take the pill.
We wanted to know how and why they came to this conclusion, so we asked a random sample of straight women in relationships with men how warmly they received the news of a male pill, and whether or not they'd trust their current or future partner with their fertility. At the time of publishing results were 59% no, 38% yes and 3% undecided. (Final results will be posted when the poll is finished.)
Sophie Attwood, 26, a PR specialist and lifestyle blogger who is currently in a long-term relationship, said the male pill "isn’t about them suffering instead of us" – she believes it "offers a real chance to even out the playing field and remove the disproportionate contraceptive burden on women."
Nevertheless, she said leaving her contraceptive fate in her boyfriend's hands would be out of the question. "Trusting someone else to be in charge of what impacts women more – pregnancy – is a completely different matter. I’m in a long-term relationship and we trust each other implicitly so I know he’d intend to take it, but having him remember would be a completely different matter."
Marcia Shawcross, 26, a lettings manager, was similarly sceptical, pointing out that it's she – and not a future boyfriend – who would bear the brunt of the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. She'd want to have been in a relationships with a man for at least six months before she could trust him to be responsible for their contraception.
I'm sure some men just lie and say they were on the pill because they wanted sex
"I'd rather take it myself or have us both take it so I’m sure I'm protected," she told us. "But I'd trust a long-term partner as we'd hopefully have spoken about having children, but I wouldn't trust someone I was casually dating. I'm sure some men just lie and say they were on the pill because they wanted sex."
Meanwhile, Brenda Kola, 22, said she wouldn't want her partner of four and a half years to be responsible for birth control for a different reason. "Right now we currently just track my cycle [as a contraceptive] and that seems to work, but I don’t know what taking a hormonal contraceptive would look like for a man. My partner suffers from anxiety so I fear that the pill would exaggerate the symptoms of his anxiety.
"If men aren't in a committed relationship and have an active sex life, I think this is something they should consider, but it definitely shouldn't be the end of condoms as they're, of course, the only thing that can protect both people from STIs."
Frankie Leach, 21, a student at Manchester University, would have similar reservations to Attwood and Shawcross about delegating responsibility for her fertility to a man, but points out that, of course, #notallmen are created equal. "It all depends on the personality of your partner," she told us. "I could imagine there are partners who I’d never be able to rely on with contraception, but there are others who I’d trust entirely."
Importantly, Leach also believes a male pill could help to better educate boys and men of their responsibilities when it comes to sex and pregnancy. "Also when it comes to abortion, it would be interesting to see if men’s opinions on how 'easy' it is to acquire or take contraception change once men start taking the pill. Either way, it’s definitely a step in the right direction and even if it's nothing more than an education tool, it will do some good."
On the flip side, many women would be happy to share responsibility for contraception with their partners, and not just because they'd be happy to stop experiencing physical symptoms of the pill.
Natasha Slee, 29, Refinery29's social media editor who gave up hormonal contraception for a fertility tracking app last year after 11 years of unpleasant symptoms, said her partner of two and a half years "has always been sympathetic and understanding... and would want to help share the burden in that way if he had the opportunity to."
Nevertheless, the pair are happy not taking any hormonal contraception, instead using a combination of condoms and the Natural cycles app. "That's working pretty well for us at the moment. I think it's made us both more mindful about sex and our bodies, and contraception has become a shared responsibility."
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