I wasn’t in the room when the independent panel decided to halt the recent male birth control trial. I don’t know what their decision-making process was like. Certainly, depression and mood changes aren’t things to be taken lightly, and of course it’s in everyone’s best interest to have new drugs be as safe as possible.
However. In the male birth control trial, 4.7 percent of men experienced mood swings, and 2.8 percent experienced depression. These were two of the side effects cited as reasons for ending the trial. On the other hand, let’s take Liletta, an IUD approved by the FDA in 2015—5.2 percent of its users experienced mood swings, and 5.4 percent experienced depression. A woman using Liletta has a higher chance of experiencing the same side effects than a man using the injectable birth control that was deemed too risky. The standards are different.
In 2007, the pharmaceutical company Bayer gave up on a male contraceptive “that involved an annual implant and a quarterly injection,” as my colleague Olga Khazan reported in 2015. The company, she wrote, “concluded that men would consider the regimen—in the words of a spokesperson—‘not as convenient as a woman taking a pill once a day.’”
Well, yes. That is far more convenient—for the men. Women will put up with it, of course, as they have for years, because the stakes are that high. And as research into male birth control accelerates, we are starting to see this hypocrisy more clearly—that the burdens women bear in exchange for their reproductive freedom are considered too much to expect men to deal with.