Between you and me

Image from blmurch on Flickr
Image from blmurch on Flickr

Contraceptive concerns should be shared

By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor

It is a universally acknowledged truth: if a woman doesn’t want any buns sneaking into her oven, she should ensure said oven is bun-proof with some method of bun control, leaving the baker to make buns galore with little responsibility for making sure they don’t get baked.

Abandoning that metaphor, the gist here is: it’s generally understood that women will be in charge of contraception, whether that takes the form of the Pill, an IUD, a patch, an implant, or something else. This is because (1) men have the option of evacuating post-ejaculation, so it’s in the woman’s best interest to ensure she doesn’t get saddled up like a mule with any long-term responsibilities, and (2) the vasectomy, one of the better known forms of male contraception, is painful and, while reversible, not something one would want to flip-flop on.

Still, I’m perplexed by the tendency for precautionary responsibilities to fall on women. Although condoms are worn by men, they can be found in the feminine hygiene section; it’s within the realm of possibility for contraception to target sperm so they shoot blanks—and scientists have pursued male contraceptive gels, pills, and shots—the vast majority of contraception on the market is focused on manipulating female hormones. I’m sure there are plenty of men who would like to avoid parenthood for a few years or decades, but they may have no input into or knowledge of their partner’s method of contraception.

Quite apart from both parties assumedly wanting to avoid unplanned pregnancy, there’s the fact of being in not just a relationship but a partnership. Liza Segan, student, said, “In my experience, the discussion of birth control needs to eventually reach a level of ‘team effort.’ While I was still new to sex, one previous partner was unwilling to discuss the use of birth control, and instead demanded I research, find, and purchase female birth control within his time limit (despite having condoms). It’s important that both partners talk to each other calmly about this topic; no individual partner should feel like a ticking time bomb.”

It’s frustrating that some people unbendingly believe women should be the ones to do the research, pay for the contraception if their insurance doesn’t cover it, take the hormones, track the possibility for pregnancy, and deal with things if the unplanned happens. An NBC News article on male birth control cites Scott Hardin, a college administrator, stating “I would rather rely on a solution that doesn’t [involve] medicating myself and the problems women have had with hormone therapy doesn’t make me anxious to want to sign on to taking a hormone-type therapy.” I don’t know if Hardin’s preference is to invest in condoms for the rest of his sex life, get a vasectomy, resign himself to celibacy, or depend on women to take the hormone therapies he himself is so adverse to, but his options are essentially limited to those four—unless doing “just the tip,” pulling out, or barebacking it are all preferable to using male birth control.

Hardin’s right about the issues associated with hormone therapy. The Pill, one of the more popular and longstanding forms of contraception, offers numerous possibilities for health concerns. Some side effects include abdominal pain, chest pain, severe headaches, eye problems, and severe leg pains, which could be indicative of heart attack, blood clot, stroke, liver, and gall bladder disease. These are “normal” issues to be concerned about with most birth control pills, but there are also differing rates of health issues from brand to brand. The birth control brands Yaz and Yasmin have been linked to the deaths of 23 Canadian women, and Health Canada reports more than 600 adverse drug reaction reports for both contraceptives.

Even if you’re in a long-term relationship, pregnancy at an inopportune time isn’t something many couples can deal with. The bottom line is that you should use the best form of contraception for you, your partner, and your collective and separate situations. It’s great if your partner trusts you enough to put their future in your hands, but I think it’s even better if said partner has your back on the whole not having a baby thing. Whether that’s wrapping their junk, contributing financially to the birth control, being open to taking contraception themselves, or discussing and ensuring they know your method of contraception, it all shows a willingness to share in the burden.


Birth Control Pills: pills which, when taken daily, have a failure rate of 0.1 per cent (although the actual failure rate is nine per cent over the first year due mostly to missed pills).

Injectable Birth Control: a contraceptive which is injected into a muscle once every three months, preventing ovulation and thickening the cervical mucus to make the cervix impenetrable to sperm. If the injection is given on time, the failure rate is less than one per cent.

Birth Control Skin Patch: a patch, containing estrogen and progestin. Equally as effective as oral contraceptives, and preferable for some women because it doesn’t involve daily dosing.

Vaginal Ring: a flexible plastic ring that contains estrogen and progestin, which is slowly absorbed through the vaginal tissues, preventing pregnancy. The risks and side effects are similar to those of oral contraceptives.

Birth Control Implant: a single-rod progestin implant is inserted under the skin into the upper inner arm. It is effective for up to three years, but can be removed at any time. The implant is one of the most effective methods of birth control, and begins working within 24 hours of insertion.

IUD with Progestin: an intrauterine device that contains the hormone levonorgestrel. It can be left in place for up to five years, and is a highly effective method of birth control.

Male Birth Control Gel: contains testosterone and a progestin called Nesterone. In a study, researchers found that of the men receiving the new gel, 88 to 89 per cent achieved a sperm concentration of less than 1 million sperm per milliliter. Depending on the dosage, there was a complete absence of sperm in 69 to 79 per cent of the men taking the new gel. “Up until now, the responsibility for contraception has traditionally always been with the female. With these new contraceptive methods for males, the responsibility will be shared. While this gel has great potential and minimal side effects, it does warrant further study as a male contraceptive,” says Dr. Christina Wang, a lead investigator at Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at UCLA Medical Center.

Male Birth Control Shot: a shot that injects a polymer gel into the penis, which coats the inside walls of the vas deferens and kills sperm as they pass. Studies have shown a 100 per cent success rate, and the shot lasts 10 years.