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Sex Ed for Guys

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"Neighborhoods like ours where men are so underserved need a place like this," says Bruce Armstrong, DSW, the clinic's founder and director. "Our goal is to interject reproductive health at every visit and help these young men communicate with their partners about birth control and condoms."

When it comes to reproductive health, adolescents and young men often seem to be left out of the equation. Of the five million patients served by the nation's 4,600 federally-funded family planning clinics, only about 3% are men, according to the federal Office of Family Planning. Recent studies, however, suggest that young men want to be involved in reproductive health issues. For instance, data from a national survey of 2,526 men ages 20 to 39 found that at least two-thirds viewed decisions about sex and contraception as shared responsibilities and nearly 90% felt that way about having children, according to a September/October 1996 report in the journal Family Planning Perspectives.

Unfortunately, young men don't know where to turn for help. Unlike women, who need to visit a doctor to get the pill or a diaphragm, guys can get condoms without seeing a health care provider. Yet many teenage boys consider themselves too old for the pediatrician and too young for the internist. As a result, guys haven't gotten the message that they can and should take reproductive responsibility in their relationships.

Recent federal programs hope to reverse this situation. Under the umbrella of the Clinton administration's Fatherhood Initiative, the Office of Family Planning has awarded grants totaling $4.7 million to 24 community-based organizations to develop and test approaches for delivering reproductive health services to young men.

The clinic at Columbia is one recipient of such a grant. Director Bruce Armstrong, PhD, casually dressed in a cotton shirt, khaki slacks, and boat shoes, earned his doctorate in social work. In 1986, he started his program to offer sports and job-related physicals to neighborhood boys. Once the guys got in the door, Armstrong and his staff used the opportunity to educate them about other health needs: the proper way to put on a condom, the signs and symptoms of various STDs.

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