Forget the men who couldn't deal with acne. A man in a study committed suicide, and others reported serious mood swings. Researchers should not have taken this lightly.
Aaron Hamlin, men's birth control advocate and executive director of the Male Contraception Initiative, agrees.
"It’s difficult to make a judgment without a control group, which this study didn't have," he told Revelist in an email. "But having three extreme events including a suicide and attempted suicide — though the researchers deemed the suicide unrelated — you have to err on the side of caution. Having this occur within a sample of a few hundred men in less than a year is a red flag."
The study should have been halted. And women have every right to be angry.
But not at the men.
The most disgusting part of all of this is that ladies have experienced side effects like these for years, including thoughts of suicide, and yet, no one has done anything about it. And if they have, it's not widely known.
Take for instance the birth control study published last week. News of the connection between birth control and depression went viral as women collectively and metaphorically sighed together, saying "see! I said this all along."
While the study researchers could not attribute the male participant's suicide to the contraception, the side effects reported match up with women's symptoms on birth control.
A year ago, Reddit user introverted-mess shared her personal story with birth control, saying taking the medication made her "numb." She'd cry for no reason and noticed a shift in personality. Soon, the side effects from the pill got, in her words, "scary:"
"I had always struggled with suicidal ideation, but instead of being bad thoughts that crept into my mind from time to time, they became overpowering to the point that I struggled to think about anything else at work or at home. At first these suicidal thoughts scared me, but soon they felt normal, and after that I started to see them as rational, correct, and something to aspire to act on."
Her experiences line up perfectly with the experiences of many women in my own life. After posting a status asking to hear the experiences of women who experienced depression or suicidal thoughts on birth control, multiple people messaged me, all asking to remain anonymous.
One woman, who is now happily on Yaz, told me one form of birth control put her in a fog.
"I was having panic attacks daily, weird outer body ish experiences, thinking about weird things like jumping off bridges etc." she said. "I was trapped in my mind. I couldn't drive every day without being miserable."
Another said she experienced severe depression after going back on birth control while taking anxiety medication.
"That was the first time I had overwhelming suicidal thoughts too," she said. "I just kept thinking about how sad I was and what would happen if I wasn't here anymore. It was scary, like I've had thoughts like that before but these were overwhelming."
A college student said the arm implant caused the worst years of her life. The first implant depressed her, but shit really hit the fan when she went back years later for her next higher dose:
"My panic attacks started getting even more severe and coming more frequently I was in bed almost all day almost every day I called off of work most of the time," she said. "I'm surprised I didn't get fired. I didn't go to class, and sometimes when I would drive to class I would turn my car off trying to pep talk myself into going and I would just sit and cry for hours in my car before i could pep talk myself into even turning it on to drive home. I would have thoughts that I wanted to crash my car into another person's or drive it off a cliff. It was awful."
These stories don't mean women shouldn't take birth control. Even the men's study will continue in a different direction — something that, from the beginning, hasn't happened for women.
LACK OF RESEARCH
There isn't even conclusive evidence linking women's birth control to suicide, even though contraceptive has been around for decades.
The University of North Carolina's National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health did find that birth control affected women differently, with some reporting higher rates of depression than others. They also noted the "hormonal contraception was not protective against suicide attempts between the ages of 18 and 28, but it was between the ages of 25 and 34."
They reached this conclusion in the 90s. Not much other research has been done — until now.
"We have long believed that sex-linked hormones such as estrogen are important predictors of mood problems, but little research has addressed how [external] estrogen regulation through hormonal contraceptives may or may not be associated with mental health outcomes," Dr. Katherine Keyes, lead author of the study and assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia, told the 2x2 project.
Now, researchers plan to specifically figure out the connection between birth control and suicide.
Keyes' team is working on a similar study that will assess the association between taking hormonal birth control and attempting or committing suicide — something even she feels is needed.
"I hope that a study like this helps somebody get funding for the prospective study that's really needed … comparing [hormonal contraception users] to condom and copper IUD users," Dr. Katharine O’Connell White, an OB/GYN at Boston University, also told the 2x2 project.
Even with all of this uncertainty, women have still taken birth control. This isn't surprising, given medicine's sexist history.
BIRTH CONTROL'S MURKY HISTORY
The first trials for women's birth control also yielded a ton of participants in the 1950s — who also wanted out of the studies. They also couldn't handle the side effects. Howeveer, researchers recruited poor uneducated women as subjects. They also recruited other women by telling them they were conducting a fertility study.
Broadly found that one-fifth of the women dropped out of the trial for Envoid, the first version of the pill. They cited major side effects, including depression, as their reason for leaving the study.
And here's where the paths diverge for men and women: Experts say that mental health, in general, has never been a priority in research. So, it's not a surprise that the last 50 years of complaints about depression have been ignored.
That leaves one major question left unanswered: Why haven't women made more of a fuss? Women have complained, but not hard enough. They've realized that they have to choose between sexual autonomy and a drug that doesn't make them sick.
As Julie Beck, The Atlantic's senior associate editor, explained:
It makes perfect sense that women would be willing to endure all kinds of side effects in exchange for, essentially, freedom. Being able to control whether and when they become pregnant has opened up so many opportunities for women, opportunities that men already had greater access to by virtue of being men.
But the real fairness indicator will be what happens next for not just the men, but also for women, who have suffered infinitely longer.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Of course, there's hope for men.
The study isn't stopped, according to Hamlin. Its just been halted. While he's said that this form won't be used again, researchers still plan to conduct other trials.
"Looking at non-hormonal routes that focus on targets like sperm motility and fertilization make a lot more sense from our point of view," he said. "Like any drug, it'll likely come with some kind of side effect, but it’s likely to be much less drastic than what we’re seeing in studies like this."
As for whether this study, or the depression one, will cause a shift in women's birth control research, to you know, put women's well-being first, is yet to be seen.
In the meantime, let's take it easy on the dudes from the study. This problem didn't expose wimpy men, biasly, we knew this was a thing (sorry guys!) What isn't well-known, however, is the fact that researchers consistently make women choose between their health and freedom.
Clearly men refuse to accept this notion. Women have been expressing their discomfort for years. It's time the industry listens to everyone.