For years humanity has been working its way toward a medical milestone: male birth control.
This progress made headlines in 2016 after reports of men dropping out of a birth control injection study due to side effects.
These side effects increased acne, depression, and mood swings.
Many women were outraged at these reports, as many of them have been experiencing similar side effects for years due to their birth control.
The problem, many are saying, is either that men are whinier than women or that the medical community has pathologically ignored the severity of women’s side effects.
The debate itself may be misdirected, as Casey Gueren from Buzzfeed points out.
Gueren explains that subjects dropping out due to side effects is common for all medical studies, and researchers in this case were mainly concerned with atypical side effects to birth control, particularly sustained infertility even after the shots ceased.
Whatever the outcome of this study may prove or disprove, one thing is clear, our society has trouble discussing birth control without anger and misinformation.
The outrage over the male birth control study shows how much frustration is just waiting to be expressed.
Take for example, Steve Bannon, President-Elect Trump’s Chief Strategist, who published an article entitled “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”
One would like to dismiss this as sexist, inflammatory nonsense, but as this man now has a great amount of political power, one has to acknowledge the popularity of this view on birth control.
The truth is, however, that recent studies have only found a small link between depression and birth control, researchers agree this requires further studies to prove.
A very small percentage of women do experience extreme mood swings when starting a new birth control regime, but this is true with many new medications and can usually be solved by switching to another contraceptive.
Bannon’s opinions show that many people are largely misinformed and highly prejudiced when entering the birth control debate.
Contraceptives have existed throughout history, dating back to Ancient Egypt, and yet our society still places a stigma on the people, especially women, who use them.
Women cannot talk about the effects birth control has on their lives, good or bad, without seeming slutty, whiny, or crazy in the eyes of society.
As a result of the stigma, women are often forced to talk about birth control in round about ways.
In public forums on health care, young women come forward and talk about how they need the pill for reasons other than pregnancy prevention, such as to stop excessive bleeding.
They may tell their doctors or their parents that they need birth control solely to manage their acne.
While these conditions can be managed with birth control, why can women not say that they need birth control to prevent pregnancy?
Imagine if, when asking for blood pressure medication, one couldn’t talk openly about their blood pressure.
Or better yet, image if one had to have an excuse for purchasing condoms “better” than wanting to prevent STDs and pregnancy.
Our inability to talk about our healthcare needs for fear of slut shaming gets in the way of having those needs met.
We do hear about birth control; we only hear about the horror stories.
We hear about the IUD that had to be surgically removed, or the arm implant that traveled all the way to the collarbone.
Or the pill that made the girl “unattractive and crazy”.
Birth control can have negative side effects, but those side effects need to be discussed frankly with medical professionals, not by clueless internet commentators or community rumor mills.
To have those frank discussions, women must no longer be afraid to ask.
Women need to be able to communicate their experiences because the decision makers, mainly lawmakers and pharmaceutical companies, in the debate over accessible contraceptives are not those who use the contraceptives.
We must start talking about contraceptives as we do other medications.
Our discussions need to be based in fact.
We cannot allow our society’s prejudices to get in the way of healthcare decisions.
We need to allow women to have access to birth control, without first answering a thousand questions about whether they truly “need” it.
We need to allow them to talk about their positive and negative experiences with contraceptives without prejudice.
We need to trust that a person and their doctor can make responsible decisions for their healthcare.
Above all, we need to talk, and we need to do a better job of talking.