Why Aren't Men More Involved?

3 min read

It's funny: We all know that it takes both sperm and an egg to have a baby. However, when it comes down to it, most of the burden for contraception and pregnancy -- key components of reproductive health -- falls on women.

According to a survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation called "Men's Role in Preventing Pregnancy," both men and women agreed that women feel more responsible for the children they bear than do men. Both men and women also said that women have the greater influence on a couple's decision to have a child.

At least one-third of men and 35 percent of women surveyed said that men today feel left out when it comes to birth control and contraception. In fact, more than half the men said they don't know a lot about contraceptive options, with one in five saying they know little-to-nothing about the subject.

There are several obvious reasons why a man might want to be more involved in reproductive health decision making. The first is that if his partner gets pregnant, he's the father -- a role that carries paternal obligations and responsibilities.

Another reason is that in many cultures, even though women are expected to make these kinds of decisions, they may not have enough information or control over the final outcome. Educating men may be particularly crucial to prevent unintended pregnancies and improve reproductive health.

Men aren't considered an integral part of reproductive health care. Since services are not geared to men's needs, men aren't likely to take responsibility for their or their partner's contraceptive choices.

Lastly, with male condoms being the best form of prevention (other than abstinence) against sexually transmitted diseases, men have an incentive to become active participants in their sexual and reproductive health.

Sexual-health clinics, obstetrician offices, hospitals, and family-planning services have traditionally been focused on women. Major barriers to including men in reproductive-health services are the following:

  • Limited funding for male services
  • Predominantly female staff
  • Negative staff attitudes
  • Lack of staff training for serving men's needs

From another angle, there's no obvious reason for men to visit family-planning clinics. Women are drawn into the health-care system out of a need to get a prescription for contraception. Male-based contraceptive methods are condoms and vasectomy. Condoms are available over-the-counter in many stores; only a small number of men have vasectomies, and then only once.

Most men and women say that men should play more of a role in choosing and using contraception. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey, two-thirds of men said that they would be willing to take male birth control pills; 43 percent would take Depo-Provera shots and 36 percent would get Norplant if they were available for men. Depo-Provera and Norplant are birth control solutions available to women that are effective for several months at a time.

While scientists are busy working on the "male pill," men can still be proactive about reproductive health. Web sites devoted to birth control and contraception, as well as other reference books available in bookstores, can also play a role in educating men about birth control.

And of course, there's always communication. Men: It's time for you to initiate the talk with your partners about reproductive health. It's sure to be welcomed with a warm embrace.