Men Who Can’t Deal: Birth Control Edition

I’m going to take a break from grinding my teeth in dissatisfaction with Donald Trump’s possible impending presidency and discuss something else important.

You know what I’m talking about. Birth Control. The BIG BC. Contraception. But this time, special twist, I’m talking about the male kind.

“The what???” You gasp, intrigued and elated and, admit it, slightly scared.

That’s right. Boys can take birth control, too.

Well — no, they can’t.

At this point you must have read the article with the flashy headline about men being too weak to handle birth control. I think it was called, MEN ARE SO WEAK, or something similar. It’s an awesome title.

I will admit that I did not share the article. I’ve gotten wise to the catchy headline game. One time I clicked on an article that was titled, “FIVE WAYS TO PAY OFF YOUR STUDENT LOANS FAST” and inside were REAL suggestions like, “never eat,” and “live in your car.” So I don’t trust headlines anymore, okay, because fuck you to whoever wrote that article. Joke’s on you  — I don’t even HAVE a car.

I clicked on the MEN ARE SO WEAK article and upon reading, it really didn’t seem all that flashy. Men had side effects, the study was called off, blahblahblah. It didn’t really sound like they were being that dramatic once you read the fine print, but it also didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary when it comes to hormonal experimentation. A lot of the men who participated in the study said they would take the drug if it was on the market. A few felt awful and dropped out. Some cited extreme mood changes, which is scary and awful, though I’ve fallen to the floor crying over an Advil bottle dropping into my water glass while PMSing so I think I can understand but maybe not. The study had to be called off when they realized the dwindling numbers were related to the side effects. Whatever.

But my FAVORITE part about the MEN ARE SO WEAK article — and this is often the case with most things — was the reaction from men. Beware the comment section on an article that has anything to do with women in any sort of way, ever. You always get one of three responses:

1. NUH-UH!

2. Too bad you’re fat.

3. I’m gonna rape you.

This differed only slightly with the addition of, YOU’RE WRONG, MEN ARE TOO STRONG ENOUGH, WE EVEN LIFT WEIGHTS.

To add to this soup-y mix of emotional male fury, I saw a few posts of a Vox article explaining that the original MEN ARE SO WEAK article was improperly allocating blame to the men as their symptoms were so much more severe than women’s ever were. This of course, was often accompanied by a caption or two by the poster, decreeing the strength of men and calling the original article bullshit.

While I didn’t feel particularly strongly about the original article on the topic, that Vox one, and the subsequent shared anger among wronged men on Facebook, really got me.

For one, Vox explains that these men’s symptoms were above and beyond the norm of women’s symptoms, that one person committed suicide (though it was confirmed this was unrelated — so thanks for sharing that to the angry masses on the internet, guys), and that their acne was SO bad, like SO bad, though. They gave statistics of female side effects of birth control, all very low, all mild, as a comparison to the amount of men experiencing issues on their end. Did you know only 6.8% of women on the Mirena IUD experience acne, whereas almost 50% of men experienced acne in their trial?

Can you imagine only experiencing acne from your birth control 6.8% of the time?

Can you imagine an entire study being held up against the incorrect statistics from just one form of birth control as proof that women don’t know what they’re talking about?

Listen, I appreciate everyone’s individual experiences and I do not doubt that this was difficult for the men involved. I have empathy for someone being a part of a study and feeling shitty from it. This is the point of studies – to find out what works and what doesn’t. Why cause unnecessary suffering? Might as well stop when you see it doesn’t work and move on.

BUT.

I have some specific issues with the Vox article – with any article – written without context of women’s perspective on a women’s issue. And, let’s be clear here, male birth control is still a women’s issue as it prevents pregnancy. Family planning can be a two-gender, one-gender, non-gender issue, but birth control will always mean stopping you from putting a baby in my female body.

MY ISSUES ARE NUMBERED.

1. How can you accurately compare a study of men taking a new form of male birth control with women who have been taking it for 60 years, who only THIS YEAR had a study come out saying, “you’re not crazy, this can cause depression?” It took sixty-odd years for you to finally conduct a study to legitimize the collective experience of hundreds of thousands of women? How can we accurately compare statistics when men’s reactions are being properly recorded and women are being told their feelings of fatigue, depression, anxiety, etc, are unrelated?

How, then, can we accurately compare statistics when women are discounted and discredited by their doctors all of the time?

I had an AMAZING gynecologist in New York. He was SO GOOD. He helped me through a tough medical time, was in magazines, and even did vaginal rejuvenation surgeries which sounded awful and unnecessary, but still! And when I told him my IUD gave me crippling cramps and 9 day periods with an obscene, almost horror movie-like amount of blood, he told me, “it happens, it’s normal.”

Not until ONE YEAR LATER when I complained of even MORE severe pain and spotting between periods, did he look inside my uterus and say, “your IUD slipped, it’s covered in growth.” YOUR IUD SLIPPED, IT’S COVERED IN GROWTH. GROWTH, HE SAID. But, whatever, it happens. It’s normal.

Was that too much information for you???? Because if you want to talk side effects of birth control, I think we should really talk side effects of birth control.

Women are repeatedly ignored by the medical community when it comes to reproductive concerns, pain, and discomfort. Also mental health. Also general feelings of illness. Because, you know, women overreact.

You know why there are such low statistics for adverse side effects to female contraceptives? Because almost every negative side effect is considered, “anecdotal.” My doctor wasn’t allowed to tell me that the IUD caused excessive bleeding and pain, because all reports of such were considered anecdotal, and not scientific. I found out a lot of stuff online after experiencing these “normal” problems and brought those concerns to my doctor’s attention, who told me, it can happen, but it’s not proven to be related.

It happens. It’s normal.

I currently take Junel, an oral contraceptive. The side effects are listed as such:

Nauseavomiting, headache, abdominal cramps/bloatingbreast tenderness, swelling of the ankles/feet (retaining fluid), or weight change may occur. Vaginal bleeding between periods (spotting) or missed/irregular periods may occur, especially during the first few months of use.

Notice it does not say decreased libido, blood clots, depression, and suicidal ideation, but we all know these are possible side effects as well, thanks to anecdotal evidence from… everyone… at one point or another, on various forms of birth control. Junel makes me feel pretty much normal. I take it and can still enjoy sex and don’t feel like killing myself. (It’s clearly not a high bar I have set for my contraception, folks.) But I have tried almost every kind there is and can tell you each one made me feel different. Thankfully, there’s enough birth control that I can switch around and find something good. But I will say that each time I experienced something negative, a doctor told me, “stick it out, it’s normal.”

A lot of testing went into the first female rounds of birth control, which I will explain later, but the relatively little (by comparison to men’s health) scientific research afforded to female health in general is laughable, but in this case, exceptionally frustrating. By not adequately assessing and responding to the experiences of women, the pharmaceutical industry makes it clear that they don’t really care how we feel, and don’t really care about our health and quality of life.

But when a man gets some bad acne…

2. Women have experienced moodiness, hormonal imbalance, cravings, anxiety, and any other subset of feelings once a month, every month, their whole lives, regardless of their birth control. So when we experience it more often, or in a different way…. Eh… Depression? This old thing. I’ve had it forever. 

I don’t believe in saying “man up” because 1 – That phrase perpetuates longstanding beliefs of masculinity and that forced toughness doesn’t do anyone in our society any favors, and 2 – Woman up seems like a pretty tough option on all on its own.

3. DUH the shot made you feel like shit. The female shot also makes people feel like shit. I call that one the crazy birth control, because it actually makes you crazy. And fat. And angry. And sick a lot. But when you look up the side effects of the shot, does it say anything outlandishly negative? Nope! Just like any other birth control! Silly me and my anecdotal evidence from everyone I’ve ever known to get the shot. 

4. Forgive us if we laugh a little at the article. While we are thankful for the freedom that birth control has brought us, and would be so thankful to share the burden of such independence with men, female birth control has a really sordid past. Particularly with women of color, birth control has been used to silence, maim, and secretly torture women across the globe.

In 1937, Law 136 was passed that legally allowed sterilization of poor women of color in Puerto Rico, as an excuse in the attempt to do things to poor women of color without their consent to end their endemic poverty. The same reasoning was used in the fifties, when new pill trials were conducted in  Puerto Rico without explicitly letting these women know they were participating in a pill trial. End poverty! Conduct secretive hormonal testing on women in another country! This also happened in Haiti and Mexico, or as I like to call them, places where there aren’t a lot of white people. While women in Puerto Rico wanted a birth control, they did not consent to being guinea pigs for the United States.

The pill being tested on these unknowing participants was three times as strong as the pill currently marketed today. While there were a few trials that began in the U.S. they were called off quickly due to the awful side effects women in the U.S. experienced. Sounds familiar.

Margaret Sanger, probably the most famous pioneer of female contraceptives, also had a hand in shady eugenic-leading dialogue. Black advocates felt that birth control was being marketed in their communities as a form of eugenics, in line with the experiences of women in Puerto Rico, that helped fight the rising numbers of black and brown people and the threat of toppling the white majority. These fears might also sound familiar to all you Trump-loving wackos.

Margaret Sanger’s legacy has been exaggerated in both good and evil, but there is some proof she gave a talk or two for the KKK so… like… thanks for not getting me pregnant, wish you weren’t a racist? Wish we could have just tested on white women and stopped testing when things got bad? And then just tested something better? Wish people’s feelings were validated?

When the pill finally hit the market in the U.S., concerns immediately surfaced over blood clots. So we tested some more in Puerto Rico. Apparently all those years of testing didn’t include side effects that, to this day, are referred to as anecdotal.

Listen up.

It’s not that we don’t appreciate your experiences, men, or think that you should suffer. It’s that women spend years not being listened to (and spent years being secretly tortured) and you were listened to on your first try.

And you should be listened to!

To a much lesser degree, but relevant for the sake of analogy, it’s like when people get upset that a white person was taken into custody without incident following a particularly violent crime and a black person can’t walk down the street without getting shot in the back by police. It’s not that we want white men to be shot while being taken into custody, it’s that we are aware of the double standard. We, as white women, understand we were granted sexual independence on the backs of countless black and brown women who unknowingly sacrificed their health and lives for medical research. We, as modern women, know that we can take birth control with very, very low risk of serious complications. We are thankful for our independence because honestly a baby is like a demon sucking me dry from the inside and I don’t understand why I need to have one. But we also know that we experience depression, health concerns, lack of sex drive, pain, acne, moodiness, crazy horror blood baths, and on and on and on and are often invalidated for having any feelings about it. We are too emotional because we are women and because we have periods and maybe because we take birth control, so it makes us untrustworthy reporters on our own lives.

Everyone should be validated in their experiences, especially the collective experiences of entire groups. Perhaps, instead of gas lighting us, realize that we aren’t the crazy ones here. We aren’t making up these symptoms, month to month, pill to pill, blood clot to excessive nausea to horrendous cramps to vaginal growth around an IUD (??????) to depression to suicidal ideation to acne to moodiness. What these men may have experienced in this study is particularly relevant to us because we are experiencing these things also. And maybe we are actually, truthfully, experiencing them to a lesser degree than these men were. But maybe we aren’t. And remember, the original article explained that these men actually, on the majority, wanted to continue taking the medication had it been available to them.

But this is really for all those men who didn’t participate in that study who feel that deep, righteous anger that can only come from being  a man on the internet. I need you to Woman on Up and give it a rest. Men can have negative side effects to a study without you defending them. Women can laugh at our own inside joke of years and years of medical ignorance on our own feelings. Be thankful you don’t get that joke.

And this topic, though not necessarily on message, is still particularly important in relation to the conversation surrounding this awful, douchebag, soul-sucking, orange clown mask-wearing, assaulting, pussy-grabbing, piece of actual dog shit smushed beneath a gutter covered in chewed gum and sticks. Trump. I’m talking about Trump. It’s important to remember that women’s voices matter, regardless of men saying their voices matter more. Think back to that irregular growth inside of my uterus surrounding an old IUD that had slipped out of place and vote for someone who doesn’t resemble that in tone and appearance. That’s a dig at Trump again – in case I’m starting to lose you a little.

Let’s get out there. Let’s Woman Up.

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