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Trials of a male contraceptive were recently abandoned when a handful of men experienced side effects deemed ‘minor’ in women on contraceptives. Is this fair any more?
“Phir se?” I gasped as my domestic help announced the news of her pregnancy. She did look weak and tired. Three pregnancies and two abortions had practically reduced her to a mere frame. Savitha has been a part of my household for over five years now and over these years, from being the typical memsaab; I had become an elder sister of sorts to her, and she would often seek guidance.
“Savitha, Your body is too weak; you may not be able to sustain the pregnancy or an abortion. It’s a big risk.” She lowered her eyes, as I said this. They spoke volumes.
“Haven’t you thought about contraception?”
“Didi those tablets make me groggy and tired and I am unable to work the next day”, she said.
“Well then your husband could use protection or opt for the surgical procedure.”
Savitha shot back a surprised look. “You must be joking Didi. Why would a man ever get an operation done and risk losing his Mardangi? And besides he does not like the use of protection. So he leaves it all to me.” Her words hit me hard. I sensed that gender equality in sexual decision-making was low in Savitha’s strata of society.
A week later, I met a school friend of mine at a coffee shop. As I sat sipping the frothy coffee, I couldn’t help but notice the sullen eyes, the gain in weight and, the dark spotty pigmentation on her skin. Rashmi looked way too tired and a tad low in energy too. I casually remarked on what I had noticed.
“Oh well, these are just a few of the side effects of the birth control pill I have daily”, she said.
“Then why don’t you stop them and let your husband take on the responsibility. He could opt for surgery or simply just use protection.”
She was quick to snap back. “You must be kidding right? When have men ever gone for sterilization, (except for the forced program during emergency period)? And besides, Ajay isn’t comfortable with protection. So he leaves it all to me”.
At that moment, I noticed the distinct similarity in both the women I had spoken to. They both took on contraceptive responsibility upon them in entirety. Their men were kept out of it, even if it meant experiencing mood swings, weight gain, depression, or infections and menstrual problems from the usage of contraceptive pills or intra-uterine devices.
Recent innovations by global research laboratories have brought out the male Pill. These pills work on the male hormone, quite similar to the ones women have had for years. They are considered to be 96% effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy. Yet, these pills have not seen the light of the day, with scientists struggling to come out with a solution to reduce its side-effects that include, mood swings, acne, depression and muscle pain.
This was in the news last week. A trial for a male contraceptive injection (deemed extremely effective in decreasing the sperm count, and convenient for taking , as they did not have to follow an ‘everyday dose’ pattern) was abandoned when 20 of the 320 men participating in the trial experienced side effects like mood swings, acne, muscle pain, and depression – common enough side effects of any contraceptive pill, and experienced by millions of women routinely when they are taking it.
A woman complaining of these symptoms would be told that these were minor side effects, and were expected to ‘tolerate’ them for the greater good of effective contraception. For wasn’t it in their best interests to ensure that there were no unwanted and unplanned pregnancies? So what is so extraordinarily troublesome if 8% of the men in the trial experienced them?
Let’s look at the no scalpel vasectomy procedure for men. The procedure is less invasive and less risky in comparison to the Tubectomy procedure for women. Despite this, the option is not well accepted and hardly has any takers.
What really is the reason? Why are men seldom a part of contraceptive responsibility? Why is it the task of women to shoulder it, and prevent an unwanted pregnancy? Is it because she bears the child in her womb and is thus directly affected physically and mentally by a pregnancy? In this day and time, is it an acceptable enough reason for men to conveniently shrug off their responsibilities?
The answer to these questions lies in the false ego, the lack of information, and a strong prevalence of social taboos that exist in society, enabling men to avoid any real responsibility for contraception. After all, it isn’t their bodies which suffer directly from a lack of interest in contraception, right? Of course they would then find any (deemed minor for women) side effects overly troublesome!
What the world needs today is a step towards sexual education of young men, bringing about awareness on sexual health, pregnancy responsibilities and thereafter contraception too. It’s about time the responsibility and the burden of unwanted pregnancies are shouldered mutually by a couple.
Until this change happens, in the current patriarchal society, most women would find it easier to pop a pill, rather than convince their partner to use protection and share the responsibility of contraception.
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