Verity Germon reflects on the unequal division of responsibility based on gender when it comes to contraception.
It’s approaching that time of year – Valentine’s Day – where romance, love and (perhaps most of all) sex is on our minds. However, for women, what comes attached to this desire is the problem of preventing an unwanted child. This has been a burden that women have carried since the beginning of time. Women have faced dangerous medicines and abortions to prevent it. However, we have come a long way since then and much has improved – I mean there’s the pill, and abortion is legal right?
Women continue to suffer the burden of problematic contraceptive methods, while our male counterparts are not required to take any responsibility. Even if they wanted to, they are not given the opportunity. It is not that male contraception has not been researched or trialled, only that it is not considered important enough that men have access to reliable contraceptives to make these methods become a reality.
In today’s world, there are only two methods on offer when exploring male contraception; a vasectomy or using a condom. This seems shocking when there are over fifteen varieties of female alternatives. What’s more is that both these options have extreme flaws. A vasectomy is a form of sterilisation, therefore only an option for a person that never wants children, and so rarely an option for young men. The second, although being reliable 98% of the time, with typical use this is lowered to 85%. Condoms can also break, and many can be allergic to the latex they are made of.
However, there is a safe contraceptive gel that has been developed for men. This is currently being used as a sole contraceptive method for a couple in Edinburgh. They say that it is working well and so far, the only side effect has been increased libido. The reason this is not available to the public is the risk of developing acne and a change in libido and mood, which is a fraction of the side effects already experienced by women through current contraceptive methods.
The excuses made to not release these trialled and tested products, such as the injection or the contraceptive gel, are that there are too many side effects such as acne, a change in libido and mood swings. However, when we compare this to the side effects women face from the multiple choices on offer, this reasoning is ludicrous. Women face these traumas and many more, from depression and anxiety to blood clots and vomiting. I spoke to my own peers about their experiences with contraception. Many had experienced extreme bouts of depression and raised anxiety. One girl explained how she gained four stone and developed cystic acne, which led to her trying another type of pill which caused her to have a cyst on her fallopian tube with constant bleeding and pain. Many others also felt the pill made them gain weight, while some experienced vomiting, headaches and increased or decreased libido.
And the other options aren’t great either – the procedure for the Mirena coil or the copper coil can cause excruciating pain, followed by longer and heavier periods. The implant can cause bruising, swelling and irritation; one girl told me she could not keep the implant as it was too noticeable to her mum, who didn’t know was sexually active. The injection has similar side effects and can take up to one year after finishing it for fertility levels to return to normal.
Women have actually died taking contraception that was deemed safe enough to be released to the public. In the 1970’s the Dalkon shield was implanted into thousands of women, causing hysterectomies and three deaths. Even in 2020, pills such as Yasmin which are proven to have awful side effects including lactation, bloating and loss of hair are still seen as satisfactory to be taken daily by women worldwide.
It shocks me that due to my gender I must hold complete responsibility for the prevention of an unwanted child. This is extremely unfair considering that sex and pregnancy is the result of two people. Unfortunately, this is the reality we are living in. Men are still able to have absolute sexual liberty while women are trapped, facing the choice of pregnancy or the use of methods that can cause harmful health complications. The latter is deemed as preferable.
I think it’s about time we realise that an accidental pregnancy is not the fault of a woman but is the responsibility of both man and woman equally. It is pure sexism that has allowed women to suffer immeasurably for generations while men have not been held accountable. Despite the patriarchal system we have in place, there are men who do want to lift the burden off their partners and are prepared to take reliable contraception that will prevent them from becoming fathers. Therefore, the withholding of such available methods is oppressive and damaging to women everywhere who have been taking damaging drugs their entire lives to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.
Artwork by Danni Pollock.