How access to reproductive healthcare affects men
“I’d thought sexuality was instinctive or natural, but it’s profoundly linked to inner security and cultural context.”
-Tahar Ben Jelloun, poet and philosopher
It seems that in the almost constant barrage of attacks on women’s reproductive rights, the loud wrangling and attempts by very conservative males to take away what should be a given – that is, control over our bodies – men’s reproductive rights are stuck in the coat closet with the deflated soccer ball and moth-eaten wool parka only to be examined on rare occasions.
Why is this? Why are men’s reproductive rights assumed and even celebrated while women have to wage an ongoing war just to protect theirs? One would think that the two are separate species, whose participation is not equally required to create another human being.
And yet, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the disparity in public perception, men’s rights to access to reproductive healthcare is often overlooked.
In part, this is due to the stereotype that it is a woman’s job to provide the birth control method. Many men are fearful of getting an exam and opt for the ‘head in the sand’ approach –what they don’t know can’t hurt them.
Is this a cultural issue? In some third world countries, men who contract a sexually transmitted disease are considered ‘blameless’, and some even feel that sex can be the cure – thinking that sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. Lest you think that this myth exists only in rural African cultures, history reveals that the myth of the Virgin Cure has a culturally diverse history stretching back to 16th century Europe where there existed a widespread belief that sexual intercourse with a virgin was a cure for syphilis. (http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2002/april/virgin.htm)
Are men’s self-perceptions beginning to evolve in a more positive way?
There is hope. According to the Wall Street Journal in May, 2012, a recent study by researchers at Ohio State University found that not only are men’s personal identities directly linked to being fathers, but so is their health. In a paper presented at the Population Association of America’s annual conference, the researchers reported that more paternal involvement was associated with decreases in substance-abuse, depression and risky behaviors for low-income fathers. There was also a correlation between involved fathers and their own self-reported physical health – those who participated in raising their children felt they had better health overall and were more likely to seek preventive medical care.
In a 2010 report published by the Future of Children, a joint project of Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, researchers were surprised to learn that “involvement with their offspring is high even among fathers who are not in a romantic relationship with the mother.” Even more striking, the study found that “a high proportion of all unmarried fathers say that they want to be involved in raising their child, and the mothers say they want the father’s involvement.”
A study by the International Conference on Population and Development postulated that by providing better access to reproductive health care for men, breaking the cultural barriers and preconceived beliefs held by men about their sexual health the following could be expected:
- Slow the transmission of STI’s
- Prevention of more unintended pregnancies
- Encourage the practice of responsible fatherhood
- Reduce abuse of women
- Provide better family planning
Some solutions offered to begin the necessary change:
- Create Primary Health Centers geared to meet both men and women’s needs and begin to look at reproduction as an event that requires both sexes
- Develop more contraceptive options for men
- Provide education to dispel rumors and misconceptions about reproductive health care for men
- Work to change unfavorable social and cultural climates
- Change provider bias against male involvement
Clearly, providing access to quality reproductive health care and education for both men and women will have positive repercussions. By involving men in becoming more responsible for their own reproductive health, we empower them to play a more active role in their sexuality and the consequences of that sexuality.
In partnership with Citizens for Choice, The Clinic!, staffed by Women’s Health Specialists, offers services to both men and women. For more information, visit www.citizensforchoice.org ‘just for men’ and ‘The Clinic!’ or www.womenshealthspecialists.org.
For more information, see: (http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2000/english/ch04.html ‘Men, Reproductive Rights and Gender Equality’)