A new study into male birth control prompted tuts, outrage and disbelief when it emerged that a clinical trial was cancelled due to safety concerns over side effects.
Commentators lined up to mock weak-willed men for bailing on a trial thanks to what women put up with every day taking the Pill:
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
— Broadly (@broadly) October 28, 2016
Reporters covering this – many of whom likely did not trouble themselves with actually reading the study, which is available here – neglected to mention that some of the consequences were actually quite serious.
Of the 320 participants, one guy was rendered infertile by the treatment – four years after finishing the injections he had not recovered a normal sperm count.
A total of eight men (2.5% of the study) were not back to “normal sperm counts” a year after they stopped the shots (page 4 of linked study).
Five eventually did recover. Two gave up on the follow-up checks before that happened, so we have no idea what happened to them.
Nonetheless, commentary focused on what writers termed trivial side-effects like acne, mood swings, changes in libido and weight gain.
Some implied that the twenty men who quit the study because of the side effects led directly to it being shelved, ruining contraception for everybody. (In fact, experts at the World Health Organisation stopped the study after deeming it unsafe).
Add in the fact that the contraceptive is 96% effective – i.e. one in twenty-five couples still end up with an unplanned baby – and perhaps it is reasonable that the scientists developing the treatment take another look after all.