June 26, 2019 | 75° F

EDITORIAL: Men find truth hard pill to swallow

Birth control responsibility should be shared equally


For centuries, and perhaps for all of humankind’s existence, women were traditionally responsible for preventing pregnancies.

Although it takes both men and women to create a zygote, women bear most of the brunt to prevent fertilization. They were told to “keep their legs closed” and had to resort to various concoctions and peculiar forms of birth control. Women of ancient China and Greece drank lead-infused water, ancient Greek physician Soranus of Ephesus recommended that a woman squat and sneeze after intercourse, medieval European women hung a weasel testicle around their necks like an amulet and ancient Egyptian women rubbed a paste made out of crocodile poop around the walls of their vaginas. Those were just a handful of the awful ways women had to deal with preventing pregnancy. While men also played a role in preventing pregnancies, the extent of their participation was through withdrawal, condoms or sterilization, and the more unpleasant methods have been reserved for women.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the modern method of birth control for women in 1960. The creation of the pill indicates progress from the strange and ineffective ancient contraceptives, and today there’s now a proliferation of birth control options: Implants, patches, shots, sponges, vaginal rings, cervical caps, female condoms, morning-after pills and tubal ligation. But it’s only 56 years after the launch of the pill that researchers decided to seriously pursue a male hormonal contraceptive. It’s only now that this important responsibility is conceived as distributable between men and women.

A study co-sponsored by the United Nations and published Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism tested the safety and effectiveness of a male contraceptive shot in 320 men, and it had positive results. The injection, consisting of hormones, is given every eight weeks and was found effective in about 96 percent of continuing users. Yet the trial came to a halt, because 20 men out of 320 (about 6 percent) encountered side effects including depression, muscle pain, mood swings, acne and changes in libido — wildly similar to women’s experience with birth control. A few men could not deal with the adverse effects of birth control methods that women have been expected to deal with for decades.

But women are expected to take more responsibility for things associated with reproduction and family life, which could easily be shared between couples. Just because a new and effective male contraceptive could potentially be released in the nearby future doesn’t guarantee that men will share that responsibility.

However, it’s to the benefit of both men and women to share the various aspects of reproductive and family care. An example is the option of having both maternity and paternity leave, but countries around the world allow the former rather than the latter. The responsibility and ability to spend time with a newborn child is reserved for the mother, while the father is deprived of time for interaction with his child, but that time to take care of a newborn is a responsibility and cherished period that should be given to both. And in terms of birth control, women are responsible for taking birth control and dealing with the side effects alone, but two people in a relationship could alternate the use of birth control so as to diffuse the burden that could be placed on one person. This serves to strengthen the relationship and enhance protection from unwanted pregnancies. If a man is single, he can still take male hormonal contraceptives if he is sexually active in order to ensure he doesn’t unknowingly father children.

Because it takes two people to precipitate pregnancy, it should take two people to share its burdens. Technological advancements allow the responsibility to be better shared, but social and cultural shifts in the perception of birth control needs to follow suit.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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