The ideal birth control: No Nut November


Rachel Choi

Illustration by Rachel Choi

By Maddie Barron, Magazine Editor & Assistant Opinion Editor

Despite the magic in the air this holiday season, there won’t be many sleigh bells jingling in anyone’s chimneys this winter. 

With the current array of contraceptive options available in a post-Roe V. Wade America, Ol’ Saint Dick may bring an early gift: No Nut November to be year-round. The semi-ironic challenge where men abstain from completion may just have to become basic training. 

While birth control options are proven safe, they are medically primitive in the grand scheme of things, enough so where sex doesn’t seem worth it.

The burden of grueling contraceptive options, like the pill or various forms of implants, often falls onto the people who can get pregnant. The stakes have never been higher, and for what? Mediocrity? 

Female reproductive healthcare has a rocky history, perhaps because women have historically been underrepresented in healthcare. A study conducted by Dr. Alexandra Sosinsky revealed that out of 1433 medical trials spanning from cancer research, cardiovascular research, and psychiatrics, only 41.2% of participants were female. 

FDA policies—like the 1977 Good Guidance Practices, which set the standards for non-male non-white minority group inclusion for medical trials—in the late 20th century discouraged women from being participants in medical trials unless the medicine targeted women. 

Although second-wave feminists, specifically in Boston, made great advancements regarding contraceptive research and abortion rights, improvements in female healthcare still trail in terms of providing low-risk, comfortable medicine with minimal side effects. 

Nexplanon, a long-acting contraceptive, is inserted in the upper arm via a minor surgery where the upper arm is numbed with a local anesthetic. Patients experience significant pain in the arm for days after insertion, and the product itself can result in unfavorable changes to periods.  

According to Nexplanon’s website, “One in 10 women stopped using Nexplanon because of an unfavorable change in their bleeding pattern.” Side effects include longer or shorter bleeding during periods, mood swings, weight gain, headaches, acne, depressed moods, painful periods, dizziness and more. 

The IUD, a copper intrauterine device, is an alternative form of long-lasting contraception that is incredibly effective but often faces extreme criticism because of its painful insertion process. A speculum opens the vagina and a tenaculum pinches the cervix to hold it steady. Healthcare providers may apply a local anesthetic, but it is not guaranteed. 

Heavy and prolonged periods, headaches, irregular bleeding, mood changes, and cramping are commonly associated side effects of the IUD. 

The pill—given the simplified name because of the iconography of the pack of little white pills—is the face of the contraceptive movement. Given its relatively easy access and non-surgical characteristics, the pill is the most popular choice of contraceptive, excluding male condoms. According to the United Nations, about 46% of contraceptive users in Europe and North America use the pill, beating out the IUD and arm implant. 

Unsurprisingly, birth control pills can lower libido as they decrease testosterone in the body, according to an article in Allure written by sex therapist Vanessa Marin. Marin also writes that the pill can affect body weight and cause irregular periods. 

The most influential side effect of the pill, however, is mood changes. According to a study by Doctor Malin Gingnell, 4% to 10% of users report adverse mood effects. Another 2014 study of 3.6 million people taking hormonal oral contraceptives revealed a 1.41% risk of users having suicidal thoughts or tendencies. 

“Use of hormonal contraception was positively associated with subsequent suicide attempt and suicide. Adolescent women experienced the highest relative risk,” cites the study. 

These methods of birth control are FDA approved and do the job, but at what cost? Why have we yet to come up with ways to improve methodology, side effects, and procedure? 

Many suggest that it’s time to turn to male contraceptives rather than further experiment on improving female contraception. Scientists have been working to develop some that are more reliable and effective than condoms. 

In a 28-day study with the University of Washington, researchers tested a daily pill called dimethandrolone undecanoate. The trial went nowhere when the male participants complained about weight gain. 

An injectable male birth control trial was commissioned by the World Health Organization, but lost most of its participants because they were experiencing significant side effects. 

Mood swings, acne, weight gain, and pain at the injection site. Sound familiar? 

The results of both trials were promising in regards to male birth control, but were cut short when deemed to have too many side effects. 

Rob Stein, an NPR science correspondent, explained why male birth control trials are likely to fail. 

“When women use a contraceptive, they’re balancing the risks of the drug against the risks of getting pregnant. And pregnancy itself carries risks. But these are healthy men—they’re not going to suffer any risks if they get somebody else pregnant,” Stein said. 

The pill, IUD, and arm implant are safe and often very effective. However, it’s time to acknowledge that the risks we accept as part of female reproductive healthcare must end. We must demand better for ourselves and our bodies.

No longer can we require people to bear the physical and mental burdens required to have safe sex just because they have a uterus. So next time you find yourself stuffing the turkey, give thanks that you’re getting any this November.