A male contraceptive pill is upon us - and I'm not happy

As a male contraceptive pill is set to reach human trials, one of our sub-editors discusses why she feels let down by medicine

Annabel Hogg
9th May 2022
image: Pixabay
After six decades of women across the globe dealing with the life-altering side effects of the of the contraceptive pill, a contraceptive pill for men is finally set to reach human trials this year.

The non-hormonal contraceptive was found to be 99% effective in preventing pregnancy during lab tests on mice. The new pill targets a gene which produces Vitamin A in the form of retinoic acid, a key contributor to sperm development.

The pill contains a chemical which blocks this gene, thereby reducing sperm counts – though, thankfully, this is reversible after six weeks of not taking the contraceptive.

“We wanted to develop a non-hormonal male contraceptive to avoid these side effects”

The hunt for a male contraceptive pill has been active for many years, but most of the trialed and tested drugs targeted the production of testosterone rather than the retinoic acid gene. In reducing testosterone, the pills had side effects such as obesity and depression. One of the creators behind YCT529, Abdullah Al Noman, said “We wanted to develop a non-hormonal male contraceptive to avoid these side effects”.

Now, I don’t think anyone, including myself, believes that it’s necessary for men to experience these side effects just because those are what the women’s contraceptive pill induces. However, the fact that world leading medics are searching for a pill that provides the easiest experience possible for men is somewhat of a kick in the teeth for the millions of women who struggle every single day because of the pill.

My first year on the pill was the worst year of my life. Migraines, horrendous mood swings, nausea and irregular periods were just some of the obstacles I was dealing with every day. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wish any of these on my male friends – but the fact that previous male pills have just been written off because of weight gain and depression raises questions as to why the female pill is still on the market.

Perhaps this is because pregnancy prevention is still seen as a female responsibility, or perhaps it’s because women’s health just isn’t taken as seriously as men’s. This certainly seemed evident during the pandemic when a number of people who’d had the AstraZeneca vaccine fell ill with blood clots. Expectantly, uproar broke out with many people demanding the particular vaccine be banned.

It made me feel like my health didn’t matter just because I was a woman

However, in the UK, blood clots occurred in around one out of 250,000 people taking the vaccine, while the contraceptive pill has a much higher rate of blood clots, affecting one in every 1,000 women every year.

I know that for me, it was quite upsetting to watch the world be horrified by the vaccine statistics whilst I silently took a much bigger risk. It made me feel like my health didn’t matter just because I was a woman and it was my job to prevent pregnancy, no matter the side effects.

Ultimately, the male contraceptive pill is a good thing, and it means that so many less women will have to suffer. However, the discourse around having minimal side effects for men is just one more in a long series of kicks in the teeth for women, who are quite frankly sick of being ignored.

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AUTHOR: Annabel Hogg
she/her| second year english literature student| relationships sub-editor 21/22

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