Women: throw your knickers in the air. And while you’re at it, chuck your hormonal contraception out the window, for the male pill is on the way. It’s time for the dudes to take care of business. No more doctor’s appointments, repeat prescriptions, injections, mood swings and irritability for us.
It behooves me to point out that there is no safe sex, only safer sex, and that responsible, active adults need to be using barrier methods unless all parties have proof that they are disease free. (Doctor’s note: good; Post-it note emblazoned with the words “I’M CLEAN!”: bad.) But when you’re in a committed, heterosexual relationship and you know your partner isn’t being unfaithful, it’s likely that one of you is a lady who is using the pill, contraceptive injections, the implant, the IUD (which isn’t hormonal, but can be painful and disruptive), or possibly the patch.
I have been using hormonal contraception since I was 17. I know that I am incredibly fortunate to live in a country where condoms are given out at clinics in pic’n’mix bags, and where a young woman can balance a sex life with the rest of her existence, without a life-altering pregnancy, unless she chooses to do so. But I have always been bothered by the biology. Hormonal contraception affects every user differently, and it has been established that oestrogen and progesterone alter the brain’s circuitry. Many women have reported a range of different, troubling side-effects when using contraception. In order to lead a happy, healthy sex life, many women find that their best option is to fill themselves with hormones and chemicals that dramatically alter their body and emotional state, while men stand around looking apologetic. Or smug.
If anyone has ever said, or heard the words, “Oooh, women, they’re, just, you know, different, aren’t they? More … emotional,” well I’ve news for you. We’re not. We’re just individually dealing with population control by triggering our own hormone surges, which will cause us to occasionally burst into tears, eat a kilogramme of cheddar, or wake up to discover our jeans won’t do up and our left breast has swelled to the size of a galia melon during the night. In order to stop having more children than we are physically able to look after, we spend our pre-menopausal lives in a voluntary state of super puberty. Women aren’t different – we’re being as selfless and sensible as we can be.
So when it comes to the introduction of the male pill, I’ve got some selfish demands. In the interest of empathy, and to help men and women understand each other a little bit better, I’d like the guys to experience the side-effects that we’ve been putting up with since our teens.
Let’s start with skin. If you’re unlucky, the pill will give you pimples – and I’d hope that the male version will result in a periodic case of pizza face. I don’t want men to have to put up with full-blown adult acne, just something that results in an occasionally painful chin, some mild anxiety and an acknowledgement that we don’t always wear makeup for fun, and its powers to conceal are surprisingly limited. While we’re at it, a little random weight gain would add to the experience. Just enough to make guys realise how difficult it is to get dressed when you have 15 minutes to leave the house and your stomach, which was flat 12 hours ago, cannot be tucked into your trousers. Although we can’t ignore the impact of emotional eating: I’ve heard many men claim that they only ever think of food as fuel, and I think it would help them become rounded human beings if they too knew what it was like to be filled with artificial hormones that make them weep down the phone when the pizza man says he’s very busy and cannot estimate a delivery time.
Contraception should be a shared responsibility, and it’s obviously not the fault of men that women have wombs to regulate, and that the side-effects are often pretty grim. But it’s exciting that science could be about to give men the opportunity to be more involved than ever in family planning. Hormonal contraception allows women to exercise autonomy over our own bodies, but we pay for the privilege in all sorts of ways. If men were to experience some of the side-effects too, it would ultimately lead to both sexes gaining a greater understanding and appreciation of each other.
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