Did We Pull Out Too Early? | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Did We Pull Out Too Early?

Life & Style writer Caitlin Steele questions whether participants in the male contraceptive trials pulled out of the study too early

The recent publication of a study examining the effectiveness of a male contraceptive injection (or shot), and its subsequent abandonment, has caused many disbelieving questions to be raised, some obvious, and some intrinsically more complex. To familiarise those unaware, a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, revealed that male contraceptive injections can be successfully used to prevent pregnancy, working by suppressing sperm concentration. 320 healthy men between the ages of 18 and 45 were given a shot of 200 milligrams of norethisterone enanthate combined with 1000 milligrams of testosterone undecanoate over the course of up to six months. All participants were in monogamous relationships of at least a year. The injection was found to be approximately 96% effective at preventing pregnancy, an incredibly promising result, especially as a first trial (comparably, condoms are 98% effective, and the female injection 99%). However, due to side effects, including mood disorders, muscle pain, increased sex drive and acne, the study was dropped.  

The injection was found to be approximately 96% effective at preventing pregnancy

Many wondered exactly why, as these sound remarkably similar (some almost identical) to the adverse effects associated with female contraception – all of which are approved by the MHRA or the FDA. The NHS website lists disadvantages of the combined pill as “[may lead to] increased blood pressure” and “an increased risk of… blood clots and breast cancer”, while the female injection boosts further ‘disadvantages’, including “weight gain, headaches, acne, tender breasts, changes in mood and loss of sex drive”. All of these are incredibly similar to the symptoms reported above by the researchers – which many were quick to draw attention to - raising questions about the type of contraception we have today. As The Independent (Adam Watkins, November 2016) points out, would the female contraception we have now still make it to market today, if the male contraceptive injection has been pulled because of these unfavourable side effects? Nobody has halted widely used female contraceptives or questioned the severity of their side effects. However, though professionals may not raise these concerns, it seems women find them out all too frequently themselves.

Even without looking at professional research, and simply viewing this as a 19-year-old girl, I know far too many cases of friends (and myself) struggling with contraception, including severe mood swings, irregular and prolonged periods, and weight gain. It doesn’t take highly scientific tests to figure out that female contraception isn’t perfect – and yet we willingly continue to take it. This raises further questions – why does the worry of contraception primarily fall to women? Clearly, the stakes are far higher (and will always be), so it’s unsurprising women will likely always want to be involved. But whilst we have many methods of contraception to choose from, there are only two male specific ones: condoms, or vasectomy – with the responsibility for the former often assumed by women anyway. The side effects coming from contraception are clearly the lesser of two evils when compared with unwanted pregnancy, and women will undoubtedly continue putting up with it, just as they have done for years.

The hypocrisy at the base of the male contraception issue seems clear
But this recent study emphasises once more than it doesn’t have to be like this. We may assume that incentive is a concern, as typically men would be less invested in preventing the outcome. However, the results of this study disprove this, with 75% of participants stating they would continue using this type of contraception, “express[ing] their satisfaction with the method”. However, this desire may be Western and not universal, as a 2005 study found approximately 70% of men in Germany and Spain would be willing to take a male pill (if there were such an equivalent), whereas only 30% men in Indonesia expressed the same willingness.

The exploration of male contraceptives raises many issues, including questions of demand, necessity, and the success of the female contraceptives. The pill (and other female contraceptive methods) have been unequivocally empowering to women, allowing them previously denied control over their lives and bodies. It seems that until there is more demand for male contraceptives, the responsibility will remain with women. The hypocrisy at the base of the male contraception issue seems clear – men simply cannot be expected to subject themselves on a regular basis to a medical procedure that might make them spotty, bloated and irritable -  side effects which, for women, are regarded as a mere disadvantage in taking sole responsibility to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps in the meantime, as we further research into male contraceptives, we could also focus on improving female contraception and lessening their side effects.


21st November 2016 at 10:00 am

Last Updated

20th November 2016 at 11:13 pm

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