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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Will contraception always be biased against women?

18 September 2017
Maddy asks the age old question again; will contraception always be biased against women?

Ever come out of a ropey relationship and off the contraceptive pill to have your sobbing soon replaced by wonder, as your depression, acne and mood swings have just stopped? Chances are, that was no happy accident or pina colada on the beach.

Now, imagine a world that meant you never had to go back on the pill.

Scientist are on the cusp of launching a few male contraceptives now – including, most recently a gel from India and an injection from Germany; so what’s the deal about contraceptives that aren’t our old latex friend?

Whispers of a male counter for ‘the pill’ have been around for a while now, and science from University of Munster and Martin Luther University in Germany suggests they may have cracked it. However the contraceptive injection was halted due to adverse side effects including, depression, acne and mood swings, feels like you have read this before somewhere?

These are just a few of the problems women have faced for decades since contraceptive pills were introduced in America in the early sixties, a time when abortion and homosexuality was also illegal in the UK. The question, given how much everything has advanced – apart from abortion rights in Ireland – if the pill was introduced now, would it be passed? Probably not, naturally I turned to my mum (s/o) to ask what was big in the sixties, that is now, a big health no-no and just generally not ok.

She says: “It was cool to smoke and drink, even when you were pregnant. Asbestos was just a building material and lead-paint was a thing.” Although extreme examples, maybe the pill sits somewhere in between? Too universally used and not quite asbestos level problematic to be retracted, but nevertheless not passable in todays’ orthorexic standard. And, in halting this study further reinforces the argument that contraception is embarrassingly biased against women, past and present.

Women who take the combined pill – a mix of hormones oestrogen and progesterone – are at higher risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis), breast cancer and many other serious health problems. Late last year a Danish study, involving more than 1 million participants over a period of 13 years, concluded that females who take the pill are also more likely to be treated for depression.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry, the study concluded those taking the combined pill were nearly a quarter more likely to be described an anti-depressant, most commonly in the first six months after taking the pill. Those on the mini-pill – only the progesterone hormone – were up to 34 per cent more prone to a diagnosis from a doctor of depression. Teens were the worst hit though, with up to 80 per cent more likely to suffer from depression on the combined pill, only to be increased twice over for the progesterone only pill.

And, it’s not just pills either; those with implants, patches and IUDs were also adversely affected. If contraception remains so damaging to women, why are we still using it?

Availability. Whether a daily pill – of which there are three main types, IUD, IUS, femdon, injection, diaphragm or implant, women have – for better or worse – their pick. Even within these categories there are – like Alberto Balsam shampoos – countless slightly different versions, but after trying several there maybe one, that actually works for you. Comparatively, male contraception is limited to just the three options, condoms, withdrawal and sterilisation – let’s not talk about ‘stealthing’. This doesn’t disguise the fact contraception is * clap* horribly * clap * against *clap * women. One quick flick through Reddit, or chat to a few gal-pals or trusty mum and issues surrounding female contraception are all too common.

But, of course there are upsides to the female pill for the some – according to the Office of National Statistics – 100 million who use it worldwide. Some of these advantages as stated by the NHS include, making period bleeds lighter and less painful, not interrupting sex and the ability to reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and noncancerous breast disease. So it’s not all bad and these positives may well – sceptical – appear for a majority of women using contraception, but what about the other ones?

Scroll down the NHS guidelines a little further though and you can start to read about blood clots. It then lists several categories which could increase your risk on the combined pill; being aged 35 or over, being a smoker, having high blood pressure or being overweight are all risk factors – each aren’t exactly uncommon. This for something, which is taken so frugally by many women, seems frightening. There is an acceptance of the pill, you are 16 you go to the family planning clinic you get whatever they give you. Keep reading and see on-going research and links to cancer. Again frightening.

But, when exactly did birth control become perfect? It didn’t, but the risks shouldn’t be overlooked and a male option should already be available.

The male trial was cut short due to the side-effects women face everyday. It reinforces male contraception and health is more important than female health, if the pill was developed today would it be passed in the same type of trial? I will leave you to think about that.

For something that was introduced so long ago, it doesn’t seem that a 180 could be done on the pill now because of its universal status in contraception, no matter how many – the number only grows – women who are negatively affected by it.

Find your agitated planner – not a fan of current contraceptive options & co-editor-in-chief @itsmaddywhite

Pics: Getty Images