Coverage of the now-infamous male contraceptive trial offered a clear glimpse into the willingness of much of the media to ignore the facts in pursuit of their own agenda – and provided the opportunity for a mountain of hot takes.
The absolute favourite was seizing on the study to mock the twenty men who volunteered, but later decided to stop after suffering side-effects – which commentators essentially think they should put up with.
We were THIS close to a male birth control shot—but some men couldn't handle the side effects.
Guys, it's time to rethink contraception. pic.twitter.com/sosOafkLY8
— Fusion (@Fusion) October 31, 2016
It was less funny when Heat Street gently pointed out that some of the men involved in the study had not recovered their full fertility more than a year after stopping the injections.
So, in the interests of fair comparison, we have assembled some more facts about the trial in full:
Side Effects Are Way More Prevalent
Lots of people complained that side effects from the treatment – an injection repeated every eight weeks – were more or less the same as those women experience.
But the rates were completely different. The 320 men on the study reported 1,491 “adverse events” between them, meaning many experience multiple side effects at once.
Here’s the chart from the study, which ignores a third of all side effects because they weren’t certain they were a direct result of the injections:
45.9% of men got acne / 42% had altered libido / 16.9% had mood swings / 16.3% had muscle pain (“myalgia”) / 5.6% started to grow breasts (“gynaecomastia”) / 5.3% had uncontrollable sweating (“hyperhidrosis”) / 1.9% had testicular pain
Only 20 men (6.25%) quit – and got branded crybabies by the heroes at Fusion and Cosmopolitan for their trouble.
Data on female birth control pills varies, but this study from 2001 said only 2% of women used the pill had a serious side effect. More broadly, initial side effects tend to fade after a few months using the pill – which was not the case with this study.
Medical Professionals Literally Deemed It Unsafe
Contrary to the misinformation on the study, it wasn’t stopped *because* men quit over side effects.
The plug was pulled by a panel of scientific experts, who said the side effects were so prevalent that it wasn’t worth the risk of continuing.
Male Hormone Treatments Take Ages To Work
Another point which has almost escaped notice: male hormone treatment is nowhere near as flexible as the female equivalent.
Because male physiology is just different, hormone treatment for men can take six months to start working – in comparison to pills and implants which work within days.
Because sperm take some 75 days to “mature” and be ready for use, slowing down production doesn’t make men infertile on the spot
It’s Not as Good as Female Contraceptives
For all this hassle, it’s worth remembering that the contraceptive was only 96% effective. So one in twenty-five men still were still capable of baby-making – vs a 99% effectiveness rate for the Pill, according to the UN.
They Also Take Years to Wear Off (Maybe Forever)
This is the real kicker – in the same way that the injections take months to start working, the also take a long time to wear off.
The study gave the men involved a *whole year* to get their full fertility back, and eight study participants (2.5%) didn’t.
Five had recovered after a few months longer. Two dropped out of the study
Realistically, A Real-Life Version Is Years Away
Despite excitable headlines, this contraceptive is still years away from being anywhere close to market readiness.
Even if it had worked 100% of the time and been side-effect free, the run-up to real world use would be huge – but they’ve also got to deal with the problems they found in this study.
The fact that the trial officially ended in May 2012 – and it’s taken four and a half years for the results to get published – gives an idea of how glacial these timeframes should be. So maybe we should save some outrage for when this thing really happens.