Men, Welcome to the World of Contraception

Recently, the world was made aware of a study that cleared a contraceptive pill as safe for men. The results of the study indicate that it is possible to decrease sperm production while preserving sexual drive and avoiding serious side effects.

For years, women have been held primarily responsible for birth control and have had to suffer the side effects of various contraceptives. But, it’s 2019 and birth control should exist for everyone! This study shows that the world of sexual and reproductive health and rights could, in the future, be very different to how it is today:

1) Both men and women will be held responsible for wanted, or unwanted pregnancy.

While some people may argue that it is unfair that women have been solely responsible for birth control for so many years, there have been some advantages. With birth control options, women are able to plan for or prevent pregnancy, while men do not have the option to do so as directly. The introduction of a male birth control would ensure both sexes to have a voice in discussions about pregnancy and children.

2) There will be a greater effect on the climate.

Women who take birth control excrete the chemicals as waste and in turn, an increasing presence of these synthetic hormones have been found in soil and water around the world. As with any drug, introducing a male contraceptive would increase the level of chemicals being released into the environment.

3) Men will experience side effects of birth control that women have been experiencing for years.

In the study conducted, men reported a few non-severe side effects as well as side effects that could be seen as deal-breakers for taking the pill. The non-severe effects included fatigue, acne and headaches, and more serious reports were made of loss of muscle mass, hair loss, decrease in libido and erectile dysfunction.

Many women will find this ironic, as female contraception methods have historically had many side effects but have never been seen as ‘unsafe’ for consumption. Side effects for women can include blood clots, weight gain, increased risk of certain cancers and mental illness.

We are still a long way away from the introduction of a male contraception – but it is on the horizon!

I believe that allowing both men and women to make active choices to either prevent or achieve pregnancy will give many people more control over their lives, sexual health and safety.

Future Planning for Young People

On November 7, 2015 I will have had my current contraceptive implant for exactly two years. I love my implant, to say the least!  I got my implant put in after I gave birth to my lovely daughter, who is now 2 years old. What this has meant for me and my partner is that we now live our lives with self-determination and bodily autonomy.

More importantly, I do not take it for granted that I am able to access contraceptives. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 225 million women in developing countries would like to delay or stop childbearing but are not using any method of contraception. Young people are busy planning for brighter futures and not necessarily for families. Contraception provides us with the security and stability to enjoy a satisfying life.

By Definition

Contraception refers to the prevention of pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse through the use of artificial methods or other techniques. When used correctly and persistently, contraceptive use in developing countries have been shown to decrease the number of maternal deaths and could prevent more than half of all maternal deaths if the full demand for birth control is met.

This is especially the case for young women and girls, a fact supported by data from the Guttmacher Institute which indicates that 35% of pregnancies among 15-19 year olds in Sub-Saharan Africa are either unwanted or mistimed. Addressing this need, by motivating young people to use contraceptives when they become sexually active and improving access to contraceptive information and to contraceptives themselves can help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions among young people.

Awareness vs Knowledge

Contraception is about sex! With recent developments in both old and new media technologies, young people have ready access to information of all kinds, including sexual and reproductive health information. However, high awareness levels should not be confused for detailed knowledge especially when it comes to contraception. The fact remains that, too often, young people do not get even the most basic sexuality education from these sources and misinformation about sex and its consequences remains common.

Myths surrounding certain forms of contraception and weight gain, links to cancer and fertility are very common among my peers. However, research has repeatedly found that sex education which provides accurate, complete, and developmentally appropriate information on human sexuality, including risk-reduction strategies and contraception helps young people take steps to protect their health, including delaying sex, using condoms or contraception, and being monogamous.

Denying information and services to young people does not protect them from harm; rather, it increases the likelihood that when sexual activity does occur, it will be unprotected.

The Role of Young Men and Boys

They have a saying that you cannot buy a sweet and eat it in a wrapper. . . . If you want to show your girlfriend full love, you have to eat her live [have sex without a condom]. – Uganda, 21 year old Male

Gender norms have traditionally assigned the role of childbearing and child-rearing to women. Matters relating to fertility, reproductive health and family planning were also considered to be within this domain. However, challenging these norms and evidence for increased male involvement when it comes to contraception is yielding positive outcomes. A lot of work needs to be done to demystify myths surrounding contraception namely: (i) perceived side effects of female contraceptive methods which disrupt sexual activity, (ii) concerns that women’s use of contraceptives will lead to extramarital sexual relations.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for young people, especially females, to be coerced into having sex. Men and boys have a vital role to play in preventing sexual coercion and violence. Programs that counteract societal norms about masculinity that perpetuate violence against women, so as to instill a higher standard of sexual responsibility in young men should be encourages. Men of all ages must be educated about responsible sexual behaviour, and be encouraged to treat women as equals and with respect. Lastly, there needs to be cutting edge research that will expand the current limited choices of available male contraceptives.

“After all this time, men are still stuck choosing between two century-old choices: condoms and vasectomies.” – Better Birth Control for Men: 8 Promising Possibilities

From Invisible to Visible

When considering young people, it is important to recognize and address the diversity of needs. These include, but are not limited to, young married couples, sexually and non-sexually active teenagers, young mothers, people with mental and physical disabilities, sexual minorities and domestic workers.

It is also important to acknowledge that programming work and policy development often do not include young people in vulnerable situations, like refugees, street children, poor and uneducated youth who all have rights and varying contraceptive needs that should be comprehensively addressed.

Finally, to ensure we leave no one behind and avoid reinforcing chronic inequalities, we must encourage innovation and development of new methods to expand contraceptive choices for all people. As parents, researchers, policymakers and educators alike, it is in our collective best interests to help meet the needs of young people by ensuring access to contraceptives is widespread, well funded, supported and protected.

#JoinTheDissent: America Has ‘Ventured Into A Minefield’

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

I am so angry about the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision I don’t know where to begin. I had to wait a few days to write a post about the ruling in order to let the reality of it all sink in. Did SCOTUS really just favor major corporations’ religious beliefs over women’s health?

In case you haven’t heard, SCOTUS ended in a split 5-4 decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store. It is no surprise that the five justices who voted in favor of Hobby Lobby’s religion over women’s health argument were all conservative Catholic men and have never used nor will ever use contraceptives in their lives.

The official ruling allows ‘closely-held’ corporations with strong religious beliefs to deny coverage of certain forms of birth control. Contrary to what you may believe, ‘closely-held’ does not mean small. According to the IRS, a company is closely-held if five or fewer people own more than half the corporation, a definition that now represents 90 percent of American businesses. For example, Hobby Lobby is considered closely-held yet it has over 500 locations and over 16,000 employees. And don’t think that this decision stops with Hobby Lobby. At least 100 more for-profit companies, from the very small to the gigantic, think birth control is murder and will soon join the ranks of corporations with health insurance policies that refuse to cover certain contraceptive methods.

Supporters of SCOTUS’ decision might say, “If you don’t like Hobby Lobby’s beliefs, go work somewhere else.” That’s easier said than done. According to recent statistics, one in three Americans fell below the poverty line for at least two months between 2009 and 2011 – the majority of whom were women and children. These individuals cannot afford to choose not to work anywhere.

What’s more, SCOTUS’ decision goes against the majority of Americans who, in a recent poll, disagreed with the notion that employers should be able to choose what contraceptives their health plans provide based on religious beliefs. As a result, SCOTUS has essentially ruled that corporations have the right to enforce religiously based policies because, you know, corporations are people too.

Even though this ruling only specifically mentions contraceptives, SCOTUS’ decision opens the floodgates for corporations to argue that their religious beliefs contradict the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the federal law.

Does your employer believe in Scientology? Technically, a company can now refuse to cover antidepressants and any type of psychiatric treatment. Is your employer a Jehovah’s Witness corporation? Guess what, you no longer have surgical coverage since they do not believe in blood transfusions. Do you work for a Jewish or Hindu company? Bad news. Your employer can refuse to cover any medications derived from pigs including anesthetics, intravenous fluids, or medications coated in gelatin. Does your employer reject to vaccinations on religious grounds? We may soon all be exposed to diseases that have long been extinct – especially children.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

But wait, there’s more.

Don’t believe in homosexuality? Refuse to hire LGBT applicants. Don’t believe in Judaism? Refuse to hire Jews. Anti-discrimination laws have essentially been thrown out the window – all in the name of ‘religious freedom.’

One must wonder, would the ruling have been the same if Hobby Lobby was owned by a Muslim family attempting to impose Sharia Law on its employees?

And let’s get one thing straight. When women take birth control, they do not automatically become a sex-crazed fiend who goes about her days and nights searching for her next sexual target, only to inevitably get pregnant and immediately abort the baby. Women on birth control are just that – women on birth control. They are no different than men who use condoms or men who get vasectomies. (Vasectomies, by the way, are still covered – as is Viagra.)

Even though the ruling covers only four types of methods, limiting women’s access to IUDs and morning-after pills, oral contraceptives may not be far behind. Just one day after the ruling, ‘the Supreme Court all but confirmed its decision applies to all contraception coverage.’ Should that be the case (God forbid), let’s be clear: oral contraceptives can serve a greater medical purpose than merely preventing pregnancies. Birth control pills have been found to lower the likelihood of endometrial and ovarian cancers; ease the symptoms of endometriosis; and provide relief for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, severe acne, and heavy and painful periods.

This ruling is an attack on women and on women’s health.

The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, believe that life begins at conception. Honestly, I disagree, but I respect their opinion. My problem comes with the belief that certain forms of birth control (morning-after pills and IUDs) are essentially abortifacients, meaning they kill fertilized embryos rather than prevent contraception.

First of all, the belief that these contraceptives kill fertilized embryos is simply scientifically wrong. Studies have shown that morning-after pills prevent pregnancy by inhibiting or preventing ovulation and IUDs prevent sperm from reaching the egg. As you can see, neither of these methods involve the killing of anything or anyone. Additionally, as an IUD-user, I take offense to the idea that I have been continuously having abortions since its insertion a few years ago. My doctor recommended that I switch to the IUD because I have epilepsy and, in my case, IUDs are much safer and more effective, as birth control pills can interfere with the effectiveness of my seizure medications.

“You have a 34-year-old woman with diabetes and hypertension, she’s not going to be served as well with an oral contraceptive as she is with an IUD. It’s such a personal decision, that should be made between a physician and patient based on the risks and benefits. Having Supreme Court justices make that decision is just inappropriate.” – Dr. Jeanne Conry, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists immediate past president

When the ACA passed, many considered it a win for the health of the entire country, but particularly for the health of women. A provision in the ACA mandated that organizations include all forms of birth control in their healthcare plans without enforcing additional costs on female employees. Under the ACA, most for-profit companies are required to comply or else pay fines. We, as a nation, were headed on the right track. No longer would people be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition and no longer would women suffer the brunt of the insurance company’s sexist policies, policies which often unjustly charged them more just for having the biological ability to bear a child (i.e. more costs for insurance companies to cover).

As of Monday, we are no longer on the right track. In fact, we are nowhere near the track. With one court case, SCOTUS has set women in America back over 40 years to the pre-Roe v. Wade days. Before the ruling, America ranked 31st in global maternal health rankings. With the court’s appalling and terrifying decision, we are doomed to drop even lower.

The good news (if good news even exists in this situation), is that men and women across the country are not taking this ruling lying down.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a scathing 35-page dissent and defended mandatory contraception coverage. The dissent includes numerous quotables, too many to list if I am trying to keep this blog short and concise. Read highlights here.

“The burden of paying out of pocket for contraception has now unfairly shifted to women whose bosses’ religious beliefs conflict with their own.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Medical professionals from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement that said the College was ‘profoundly disappointed’ by the ruling.

Democrats are already preparing four different response strategies:

  1. Writing a new regulation requiring an insurer to cover the cost of contraception that the corporation claiming a religious objection refused to cover;
  2. Having the government, in some fashion, cover the cost of that contraception;
  3. Amending the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which was the basis of Hobby Lobby’s successful lawsuit) to specify that corporations are not granted certain protections given to individuals and others; or
  4. Amending the statute in the opposite direction, by adding explicit language protecting individuals from having employers’ religious beliefs imposed on them.

Social media has become a megaphone amplifying American women’s and men’s frustration with the ruling. On Twitter and Instagram, users are using #Dirty100#NotMyBossBusiness#JointheDissent and #HobbyLobby to voice their concern and anger. The hashtag #DrHobbyLobby has also gone viral, allowing users to vent their frustrations by poking fun at the idea that Hobby Lobby can make medical decisions for its employees.

On YouTube, a video of a young man putting Ginsburg’s words into song has been featured on The Huffington Post and, as of this writing, has over 160,000 views.

Are you a woman or a girl? Are you a man or boy with a mother, daughter, wife, sister, girlfriend, female friend, or female relative? If you answered yes to any of these questions, SCOTUS’ ruling directly affects you. It’s time take action.

Join the Dissent.

Learn more about the ruling:

*UPDATE: The Supreme Court has broadened the Hobby Lobby ruling to include ALL forms of birth control and LGBT anti-discrimination exceptions are in the works. 

Cover Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Dear Mr. Huckabee: Access to birth control is not a government handout

On Thursday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee went on a rampage during a speech at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in downtown Washington DC. Huckabee – in a failed attempt to pose the Republican party as “pro-women” – said:

Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That’s not a war on them, it’s a war for them — and if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them each month a prescription for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.

While I fully believe that Huckabee sincerely thought that what he said was “pro-women” and a testament to how the Republican party believes in women’s independence, the true message of his statement is the polar opposite. Huckabee, as many of his fellow Republicans, believe that giving women access to affordable birth control and sexual and reproductive health services is a form of a government handout, “Uncle Sugar coming in” to provide them for free something they do not need – nor deserve. Therein lies the fundamental problem: The notion of need for birth control as proof of women’s “helplessness”, dependency on the government, inability to “control their libidos”. I am not sure what was taught to Mr. Huckabee in human anatomy, but I have yet to figure out a way to “control my reproductive system”. Maybe there’s something I just don’t know about my own body, that (male) Republicans are aware of – which seems to often be the case, at least according to them.

I wonder if this narrative would remain the same if we could change bodies for just a few months. If men like Huckabee could see what it feels to take a hormone pill every day to prevent pregnancy for years and years, and deal with the weight gain, mood changes and increased risk of blood clots? If they could experience having an IUD inserted into their body, and deal with cramps and heavy period and spotting and god knows what else – or a capsule under their skin releasing hormones into their system. What would the narrative be, if these men would have to bear the responsibility of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy, and spend sleepless nights wondering what to do if they did accidentally get pregnant. What would the narrative be if they had to put their bodies, minds and sanity through all this – and pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for the joy of exposing their bodies to hormones and pap smears and OBGYN visits and pills and devices, that all place the responsibility of birth control on women and women alone. Would they still think that it’s about controlling our libidos? About dependency on the government? About Uncle Sugar and his handouts?

Planned parenthood-huckabee quotes
Infographic courtesy of Planned Parenthood

The Republican narrative about women, marriage, motherhood and sexual and reproductive health has one underlying premise: That women should not be having sex before marriage and that once we do get married (to men), we should no longer have a need for birth control. This message is not only fundamentally insulting, but it also promotes and maintains traditional and oppressive gender roles, in which women’s primary role is that of a wife and of a mother. It does not promote equality or women’s empowerment – quite the opposite.

Women need access to birth control, because that is the only way for us to have control over our reproductive decisions. Women need access to birth control, because it is – as stated by Sandra Fluke in her piece written jointly with Planned Parenthood –  it’s a form of basic preventative health care. Access to birth control allows women – and men – to plan their families, to prepare for parenthood, and to have a child if and when they are ready. Women need access to birth control because birth control for men, with the exception of the condom, is non-existent. Huckabee’s statements about “Uncle Sugar” and “libido” is not a testament to women’s independence – it essentially sends the message that women who need birth control are slutty, promiscuous and dependent on government handouts. This, Mr. Huckabee, is not fighting a war for women – it is fighting a war against us.

Featured image courtesy of Adam Fagen, Flickr