MCI's Youth Advisory Board member Molly Ring shares frustrations with existing contraceptive methods and her motivation for joining the board in this blog post.
I joined MCI's Youth Advisory Board (YAB) because, like so many others, I found myself in a stable relationship and looking to find a more reliable method of contraception than condoms. From speaking to friends who had experience with taking hormonal oral contraceptives, I felt very apprehensive about side-effects, unsatisfied with the range of non-hormonal options and above all frustrated that the burden of preventing an unwanted pregnancy rested with me simply because I was born with a uterus – as if the prospect of pregnancy and childbirth alone is not enough to contend with.
I wondered whether there were men who wanted to take control of their own reproductive autonomy while relieving some of the burden from women. To my surprise, I found results from research studies indicating that fears of unwanted pregnancy had similar effects on arousal in both men and women, and yet I had never heard a male friend of mine complain about the lack of effective contraception available to men.
As I am currently studying neuroscience as an undergraduate, I was taking a physiology module which covered the topic of reproduction. My lecturer was absently and generically praising the efficacy of current methods of contraception, and I felt disappointed in the department and academia in general in failing to acknowledge the weaknesses and critical risks of currently available methods. As an institution encouraging new clinical research ideas, surely it would be more appropriate to signpost an area of medicine where there are such deficits in patient satisfaction.
After taking a combined pill for several months, I began to feel a tangible impact on my mood, becoming significantly more irritable and lacking emotional regulation. I spoke to many of my female friends who had all had their own experiences of negative side effects of the pill. From anecdotal evidence I began to feel that contraceptives currently available are simply not suitable – with side effects including blood clots, acne, depression, weight gain and so on. I couldn’t understand how if young people everywhere I turned were unsatisfied with their contraceptive offerings, why was no one talking about it? Is there anybody out there advocating for the development of new contraceptives or raising funds for research that many feel is a waste of resources because ‘the pill is 99% effective’?! If it is effective at the cost of women’s mental and physical health, self-esteem, and even their lives – with at least 300–400 healthy young women dying yearly in the United States due to hormonal contraceptives, then isn’t it time to find alternatives and bring contraception into the 21st century where gender-equality should be at the forefront of medicine?
I was overwhelmed with frustration, knowing that the pharmaceutical industry would likely be largely uninterested in developing better novel contraceptives, due to extremely high costs associated with drug or device development, and the current high levels of uptake of existing contraceptives out of individual necessity.
That is when I discovered the Parsemus Foundation and the Male Contraceptive Initiative, who had granted funds for the research of the vas occlusive VASALGEL. I wanted to get involved in any way I could, contributing perspectives from youth in the UK and learning about the wealth of research being funded in the field. I was delighted to be accepted onto the YAB and having the MCI’s flag to fly when advocating for the development of novel male contraceptives has empowered me to start more all-important conversations about sexual and reproductive health, to begin to accumulate the momentum we will need to reshape the contraceptive market. There are people out there who care about universal reproductive autonomy, after all.