Despite all the talk of unexpected pregnancy and abortion centering around a woman’s “responsibility,” men do actually play a role in conception. In fact, it’s a pretty important one (the guy doesn’t have to be there, but at some point a penis will be required). Taking the huge leap that defies all social conditioning, men therefore also play a role in preventing unwanted pregnancies. And finally, this is being loudly and publicly acknowledged.
The British contraception advocacy group Family Planning Association is running a Contraceptive Awareness Week in February. This year’s focus? Men.
From the site:
To get the full picture, for this year, fpa will be focusing on the male element of contraceptive use. Our Valentine’s campaign – The New Man – will examine men’s attitudes to contraception, get some of the basics about contraception out there and encourage men to get more involved in their own reproductive decision making.
We know that men are interested in contraception. Since 1996 an extra 48 per cent of you have gone to a contraceptive clinic.
But men have their own set of issues when it comes to sexual health. Men don’t have as many methods to choose from as women (at the moment there are two male methods – condoms and sterilisation). Some men might think contraception is a bit of a ‘girly’ subject, putting them off it. We also know from men who call fpa’s helpline that they just don’t know enough about contraception and how the different methods work.
Some may say there’s no point including men. Contraception is a woman’s issue.
Of course it is! But there’s more to it than just focusing on the ladies. If men don’t know about contraception, how can they understand the options and make decisions about preventing pregnancy? And besides, how can they impress women with their encyclopaedic knowledge of all things contraceptive if they don’t know their patch from their pill?
Research also shows that men and women who don’t communicate about contraception are less likely to use it.
Personally, I think that it’s a great thing. Contraception distribution and education is generally focused on women, and there are damn good reasons for this that I’m not going to criticize. With the exception of sterilization, the most effective means of birth control are and must be controlled by women. And yes, they do have more at stake. If a pregnancy occurs, it’s going to be their body bringing a fetus to term and giving birth, or their body going through an abortion procedure.
But of course, that doesn’t mean that men shouldn’t be involved.
Are men uninvolved? It’s a decent question and one that can’t have a meaningful answer, since all men aren’t the same. Many men are interested in female-controlled contraception, how it works, how it’s used, what it will do to their partner’s body. Personally, I can’t imagine being in a relationship with a guy who didn’t give a shit about that sort of thing, and no, not just because I work at Planned Parenthood, etc., but because on some level I’d feel like he didn’t give a shit about me so long as he could still get laid.
I also imagine that (like most of my opinions) this is not the mainstream view. I don’t think that it’s a general expectation for men to care. They aren’t really taught about birth control except “use a rubber.” And while both sexes in school (if they get sex ed) are expected to learn about condoms, in my experience it often seems like the guys are all but asked to tune out as soon as the pill, etc. comes up. Should this information be directed more at female students than male ones? Probably. Should the guys be made to feel or allowed to behave as though it doesn’t concern them? Absolutely not.
An anecdote: a few months ago, I received a text message from a guy I used to work with back before I quit my job at what I refer to affectionately as The Racist Hardware Place. He was pretty much the only person I could still tolerate when I left, and an 18-year-old high school senior. At some point, I must have mentioned that I volunteered with Planned Parenthood, because that’s what the text message asked about: “do you still work at Planned Parenthood?”
Instantly, I thought “EC or abortion.” Luckily, it was EC. He told me that the condom had broken the night before and that his 17-year-old girlfriend wouldn’t go into Planned Parenthood for whatever reason (I didn’t pry; I’m guessing embarrassment, though it could have also potentially been moral conviction). And he needed to know if there was “another way” to get it.
So I explained to him that it’s not only adult women who can buy EC over the counter; men can, too. He seemed pretty surprised but relieved about this, went down to the pharmacy and thanked me profusely. And since he didn’t contact me again, I can only assume that it worked.
But here’s the thing: there’s no way in hell that I was the first person he asked. It was about 4 or 5 p.m. the day after. You know that he went to school, asked all of his buddies, made a few calls and turned up nothing. We hadn’t talked in a couple of months and he didn’t even have my phone number; he must have looked it up in the files at work. I was almost certainly some kind of last resort. In fact, it’s likely that he was talking to one of the adults in the store, and they were the one who remembered that I worked for PP.
That’s pretty upsetting, and not for reasons of ego. EC is, of course, something that you don’t want to and can’t afford to waste time getting, but it’s the one that often causes the biggest hassle, due to a painful lack of education or misinformation and age restrictions (I’ve already given 16-year-old brother information on EC and told him that if he or one of his friends ever needs it, don’t fuck around trying to get to a doctor or trying to find someone older who won’t “tell.” Just call me ASAP. And yes, this is perfectly legal.).
My point here isn’t that teenage boys/men are disproportionately uneducated about contraception, because clearly the girls/women were uneducated, too. His girlfriend didn’t know. I can only assume that her friends didn’t know. The point isn’t that men are less aware of these kinds of things. The point is that we’ve reached a place in our society where men are expected to take such a small role in contraception that people naturally assume men can’t even buy it. Here we had a guy who did care, who wanted to be involved, who was in fact being the more proactive one in the relationship and just didn’t know and couldn’t find anyone else to tell him that he was allowed those things.
In the end, this is my very long way of saying that I think the campaign is a great and important idea. And not only because it will hopefully guilt a few guys into taking an interest, but also because it could give validation to those men who already want to be involved but feel like it’s not their place, or that doing so would be some kind of strange threat to their masculinity. Since I see no suggestion that men get some kind of decision-making power over their female sexual partners’ birth control methods, I can also only see it as a good thing for women. Like FPA said, couples who don’t talk about contraception are less likely to use it. So women would benefit. Men would benefit. Heterosexual relationships would benefit. Sounds pretty damn likable to me.