Recently an article in The Stylist spoke about the increasing pressure from sexual health research to improve the options and expectations we have for men and their involvement in contraception. The journalist writing it actually felt that contraception should be kept in the control of the woman. I disagree.
At present, most options of contraception revolve around disrupting the hormones of a woman. In fact, most research up till now has been around options for a woman to take. This is because we have, up till very recently, seen baby making and family care as primarily the job of a woman. As those views shift we start to wonder if men should be more involved at the first point of contact; contraception.
At present, men have two options; condoms or vasectomy. These are two extremes I'm sure you will agree. Whereas women can choose from; intrauterine devices, implants, injections, sterilisation, condoms, diaphragms, caps, spermicidal gels, the pill, and the fertility awareness method. The methods which are used most by women are the ones which alter their hormone cycle stopping them from ovulating mimicking the hormonal state of pregnancy in most cases. These methods of hormonal contraception are not without risks (as with any medical intervention). But you have to wonder, does hormonal manipulation of women, as our primary target, really make sense?
Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have to create a baby. These eggs can decrease and increase (yes increase) in quality as they go through life, but it will take a minimum of three months for the impacts of any lifestyle or dietary improvements to be felt. But, as far as we know, they can only decrease in quantity. Taking hormonal contraceptives can cause severe problems such as heart attacks and blood clots (in rare cases) and it can sometimes take months for a woman's hormone cycle to return after stopping them. Occasionally I receive patients whose periods never returned (this is only partly due to the drug). Very occasionally the insertion or removal of intrauterine devices can cause scarring which is a detriment to a woman's fertility for the rest of her life. (To read more about the detrimental effects of the pill read Holly Grigg-Spall.)
Whereas, men create sperm from scratch every three days. This short rejuvenation cycle means that disrupting said cycle is far less likely to have life long effects.
I don't want either sex to bare the burden of contraception alone though. But rather each couple should discuss their options and make these decisions together rather than just assuming this is women's work.
I'd like casual relationships to start with both parties using a form of contraception which suits them. The man wearing a condom where a woman may wish to take the pill for instance. I also think that as relationships progress the person who DOESN'T want to conceive should be the one in charge of contraception. Whereas, if the woman's ready to have a child perhaps she can stop using hers and take the chance of his method failing. This is not about trying to trick anyone it's just an example of the different levels of risk couples may wish to take as they traverse through their relationship together. Right now, most couples probably don't even have the discussion because it's just assumed the lady will take care of it. But this is a two way road. If we want equality in all things, contraception is an area we need to be fighting for. Starting with more research into contraceptive methods for men!