Men Can Help Prevent Unintended Pregnancy, Too


Finding himself faced with his partner's unplanned pregnancy, today's man may well be confronted for the first time with a situation in which his opinions and beliefs carry less weight than those of his female partner. In absence of a critical day-to-day assessment of their gender-based privilege and power, privileged men rarely find themselves pushed to recognize the negative effects of their power on the lives of others. So when men create an anti-abortion movement that turns a woman's decision to have an abortion into a story of male victimization and loss of fatherhood, their reaction is understandable — and even predictable.

But the men who claim that they have been victimized by abortion were not powerless to prevent their circumstances. When a couple uses contraception, they make an implicit agreement that they are not ready to be pregnant. For a man to not be ready to face these decisions, have unprotected sex, and then be upset with his partner for having obtained an abortion and deprived him of his reproductive rights is totally contradictory.

These arguments should in no way delegitimize the suffering that men may feel. Abortion can be a difficult experience, but it is one that women should always have the choice to make. No, men cannot have the final say on their partners' decisions. But they can assert their ability to be knowledgeable and supportive both before and after an abortion. Men can spread a positive message of partnership in decision-making. Masculinity does not have to entail a man making the final decisions in a relationship and giving up his personal aspirations to care for his child. Instead, being strong can mean that a man is willing to discuss family planning with his partner so that when pregnancy occurs, it will be intended, and he will be ready to support the family that he helped to create.

Reproductive responsibility has long been considered to be a woman's task — but men are deeply affected by the pregnancy-related decisions women make. Abortion decisions have been considered anecdotally to affect the social, emotional, and physical health of men, especially when men are not considered valuable enough to even hear about the decision making process. As seen from November's "Reclaiming Fatherhood" conference in San Francisco, California, which gathered more than a hundred grief-stricken men who had been directly or indirectly involved in abortions, men do want to play a larger part in reproductive decision making — even if they intend to allow only one option to women and therefore no decision at all. We can sympathize for men who have not had the opportunity to show a more compassionate and supportive side such that their partners would have more likely noticed their potential to both be helpful husbands and unfailing fathers, but we cannot overlook the fact that these sensitivities among men are late in coming. The majority of men seem to want to become part of pregnancy decisions only after having had unprotected sex, and without ever having previously considered their partners' desires to be pregnant with their genetic offspring — or to be pregnant at all.

Male Involvement in Birth Control and Family Planning

Can men be blamed for sitting back and letting women take the lead in handling birth control? Biology has never forced men to bear the consequences of pregnancy. Nor has our society also asked men to shoulder this burden. The 2005 Debt Reductions Act reduced federal funding for state-run child support enforcement agencies – so men have been with even fewer reasons to be sexually and socially responsible. Meanwhile, the Child Support Protection Act of 2007 has stalled. But even the paternalistic US government is not solely to blame for men playing too small a part in the prevention of unplanned pregnancy. Medical research has been slow to provide contraceptive options for men and because many men assume that women have already secured a birth control method of their own, they have not demanded them for themselves. Current options that men have to prevent pregnancy are limited to condoms, periodic abstinence, withdrawal, and vasectomy — and these options are woefully inadequate, when compared to options available to women. Yet even if there existed a better birth control option for men, the difficulties public health organizations have had convincing men to use condoms belie a more desperate situation, in which, for many men, possible consequences of sexual activity are considered only after sex takes place.

But men can do better and women should expect this of them. One simple and very concrete way men can take more responsibility for reproductive health and family planning has been made possible by the FDA approval of over-the-counter provision of emergency contraception.

Male Access to Emergency Contraception

If ever there was a perfect time for men to band together against a loss of fatherhood, that time is now — with their demand for access to emergency contraception. Those who feel that they have been hurt by abortion have more reason than anyone else to spread knowledge of Plan B and support its widespread provision to men.

Men who have not been responsible enough to find out if their partners want to create an environment fit for raising a child may not be ready to be fathers. If men want to reclaim fatherhood, they need reclaim partnership first. To reclaim partnership, they need to take reproductive responsibility into their own hands, before becoming sexually active.

In August 2006, the FDA approved of Plan B as an over-the-counter emergency contraceptive option for women age 18 and up. But not until December of the same year did the FDA clarify that Plan B could be sold to men aged 18 and over for personal provision to women. While a publicity buzz accompanied the monumental status change of August of 2006, the access for men that came five months later has been inadequately emphasized, both to the demanding public and dispensing pharmacists. Neglecting male involvement as an asset for family planning can only worsen problematic behaviors that studies have already identified: that men tend not to concern themselves with pregnancy until after being involved in unprotected sexual encounters. If men can be made aware of this post-coital method, they may have an opportunity to become partners for the prevention of unplanned pregnancy.

Men can share the financial burden of Plan B, be advocates of Plan B usage, become knowledgeable resources on where to obtain Plan B, and defend women against any social stigma entailed in pursuit of emergency contraception. The added male resources and support of women are especially important considering that a 2005 survey of university students showed that almost half of students believed that Plan B was the same as RU-486 (the "abortion pill") and 100% of students felt that they would feel embarrassed or judged when asking for it. For some men, being acknowledged during his partner's concern over a possible unplanned pregnancy can also prevent a feeling of alienation from what has been socially considered a woman's responsibility.

As Plan B is most effective (89%) within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse, with effectiveness decreasing with each moment after initiation of unprotected intercourse, a male ally can access Plan B when his partner is unaware of its existence, is at work, incapacitated, financially unable, or underage, and this could be significant for the prevention of unplanned pregnancy. Doubling the population of knowledgeable buyers of emergency contraception through the recruitment of men could go a long way in preventing unplanned pregnancies – in addition to the negative feelings entailed by abortion decisions.

In spite of the substantial promise of this role for men, cases have been reported of men being turned away from their purchase attempts at pharmacies. Along with pharmacists who have opted not to sell Plan B in general, there are pharmacists who, either as a result of a lack of education or an unfounded bias against male intentions, continue to limit the sale of Plan B. Men trying to buy for their partners or buy before having sex for "just in case" moments where condoms break have been turned away when unable to prove the age of their partners. Although the prevalence of denial to men has never been surveyed, its existence is alarming enough. For each man who is denied a chance to participate in family planning interventions, society loses its chance at creating a population of enlightened men, cognizant of their capability and responsibility to women and their future or present families.

A Role for Men That Supports Women

The plea for the assessment of male feelings of sadness and regret after his partner's abortion is not unwarranted. But men cannot appeal for this assessment without understanding the negative effects that male-directed decisions can have upon women. To equate the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy on men with the consequences for their female partners is untenable. Rather than taking away from women for their own gain, men should try to think of a role for themselves that supports both parties. Sex and the creation of a family should be based on love. Men may say that they love their partners, but when they become part of a movement that aims to deprive their partners of a freedom to pursue life as they themselves do, that is not love. Though men may find it difficult to accept a woman's ownership of her own body without having prior been aware of any other form of gender discrimination, men need come to understand a new role for themselves in today's society. As advocates for Plan B, male contraception, the inclusion of male perspectives in family planning, and better sexual health education, men today can ensure a more productive and loving relationship with women in the future.

Photo By: Steve Todey

To start reclaiming fatherhood, contact your local pharmacy to find out if they will provide Plan B to men. Researchers at Brown Medical School in Rhode Island have already begun a survey of male access to Plan B and would be interested to hear more about your experiences with access and thoughts about how men can be supportively involved in reproductive decisions. Send an email to provoicepartners@gmail.com.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    Fantastic article, Brian!

  • invalid-0

    I fully believe that empowering male partners to take responsibility for their own reproductive destinies is key to creating an environment in which reproductive rights are safe and shared by all. We need more advocates like you who are capable of communicating this message effectively. Go Brian!

  • invalid-0

    All of this article implies men need to start to do that which is all too often the last thing they think about before engaging in sex.The ladies should point certain things out to them and not make the same even more serious mistake out not thinking it t hrough.all this in turn implies a need for progressive sex ed in schools so that young people learn in time to excercise good judgement in the first place.But.yes all people need to think out sexual matters,adults could do better and might have if they ha d sex ed when they were in school.it is insanity and a social evil that the right has forced people to deal with constant assaults to undo the human dignity of life in a nation that otherwise might respect the law.To alter hard won rights that others have gained for society in order to establish a right to make decisions of a medical and personal nature should be veiwed as an attack on human liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights.But sane persons already know this.

  • invalid-0

    This is an absolutely wonderful article, Brian. I’ve been involved in the reproductive rights field for years, and I always try to emphasize that reproductive health and family planning include both women AND men. This post does that beautifully. Thank you.

  • invalid-0

    I love the ad at the end of this post. Do you know who is promoting this campaign?

  • brady-swenson

    was done by the author, Brian Nguyen. He has made a few other great ads in this vein but as far as I know there is no funding for a campaign… though I think they deserve to be seen!

  • brian-nguyen

    I definitely agree with you on the need for non-abstinence only sexual education. If men and women today had a more thorough and open education (perhaps even a genuine conversation) on the benefits and consequences of having sex while they were younger, there might be less of a stigma against discussing sexual histories prior to engaging in sex. This would likely lead to a decreased spread in sexually transmitted infections, and an increased likelihood of condom use, and therefore decreased rate of unplanned pregnancy.

     

    However, sex education in schools tends to be more or less academic, based more on lesson plans than life lessons. It is due to this constraint of always being tied to a textbook that students might feel a disconnect that prevents them from applying the lessons that they hear about in class to their own beliefs/values. It may be instead more important and effective to create open dialogue between students and teachers such that teachers become figures whom students will reach out to when the lessons become more relevant to their lives. Furthermore, by straying from actual academic lessons about reproductive anatomy and various diseases, and instead talking about the experience of pregnancy/motherhood/fatherhood/childhood, an educator might better be able to help students think for themselves about the relationship between sex and their own lives, i.e. "If I were a parent right now, I'd never be able to go out with my friends because I'd have to take care of my baby." "How would you feel if your parents had to take care of your baby?" "Do you think that if you had sex with him and had a baby that he would stay and be a good father to your baby?" Conversations about life and what we value are not always covered in educational curriculum, which is striking since school is where students should be learning how to live. It's easy to teach students the methods of contraception. Even if students did not know where to get contraception, they're resourceful and will find out how to get what they want through friends or the internet. However, what students cannot get is perspective and thoughtful consideration of their actions and their consequences. These are extremely important lessons that sexual education programs need incorporate. If people see a reason to protect themselves, then they will find a way. This is not to say that we won't provide content and value lessons on reproductive choices, but instead to emphasize a need for dialogue that invokes personal reflection in the younger generation. Unfortunately, these are the hardest lessons to teach since as adults we're just really uncomfortable talking to teens and thinking about them having sex—nevertheless it was perfectly rationalized in some of our minds to do so when we were the same age…

  • brian-nguyen

    Thanks so much for your comments. It's certainly logical to propose that reproductive health involves two people and that family planning entails a conversation between more people than a woman and her obstetrician or primary care physician. Unfortunately, the reason why this has very much become a woman's issue is because men are rarely made captive audiences of health education providers. A woman will go to her ob/gyn for an annual exam and can discuss contraception, family planning, and safe sex practices. Men however, after they have stopped seeing their pediatricians, may never see a physician again until their first heart attack or a case of erectile dysfunction. Education from experts is thus never given to men on a regular basis. The key is getting men to see a need for education, upon seeing this need, they will seek education. Since need has to do with education, women can do their part to expect more of men, i.e. "I want a man who knows that pulling out just does not cut it." Not only emphasize to care providers about the need to include men and women in conversations about repro health, one need emphasize to men in general to begin accessing this information. Providers, I'm sure, are already willing to talk to men.

  • brian-nguyen

    I'm so glad you liked the ad. It's actually inspired by some work that I've seen from a group in San Francisco called "Better World Advertising." (http://www.socialmarketing.com) They do a lot of modern, progressive awareness campaigns that include syphilis testing among the homosexual community, the adoption of minority children, and testing for HIV. Unfortunately there is not currently much funding or a forum for a male involvement series of ads, otherwise I'd be right there. If you know of a group interested in using this type of work or displaying it so that it reaches more men, I'd love to know about it.

  • harry834
  • invalid-0

    I have watched the debate about abortion since long before Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that allowed women to choose whether or not continue a pregnancy. I, personally, am opposed to abortion. In my opinion it imbrues the spirit of all who are involved. The woman who makes the choice to terminate an unwanted pregnancy must face the consequences of her actions. Besides the risks (no matter how minimal) to her health and the indignity of the procedure is the doubt about the ‘might have been’ of the child that never was. Then there is the doctors and nurses whose training and experience makes them more aware than most of the value of life. As well as the importance of preserving life.
    As a man (this applies to women as well) I have no right to tell any woman (or man) what they must do with their body. The only thing that gives me any right to have any input at all in a womans decision is if I am the father of the fetus she bears AND if I am willing and able to take full responsibility for the physical, emotional and financial support of the mother and child.
    In the real world we are often called upon to make choices. Choices that don’t always conform to standards of right and wrong, or on the basis of good or bad. Too often we must choose between the lesser of two evils. We make such choices every time we enter a polling booth to cast our ballot. Every time we elect to buy a foreign-made product because it is cheaper even though we know it means taking jobs from our friends and neighbors. We make such unsatisfactory choices in many other aspects of our lives.
    As a caring person I prefer to see a world where no woman is forced to choose abortion. But if the choice must be made it is preferable that the choice be available to all women not just those wealthy enough to travel to another country where the abortion can be performed safety and professionally. It is preferable to have the procedure done in the safety of a doctors office by trained professional than in some germ infested back room as was often the case before Roe v. Wade.
    We will never stop abortion, whether it be legal or not. However, if we educate more young people on ways to prevent pregnancy and the emotional, financial and physical resposibilities and consequences of sexual activity there will likely be fewer unwanted pregnancies. If we find viable alternatives to the termination of pregnancy. Alternatives such as finding more people who are willing and qualified to adopt. Join with organizations that support people who are plagued with infertility and encourage those people to adopt. Adoptions that will allow the birth mother to be a part of the childs life after adoption. People and agencies that are willing to provide medical, emotional and financial support for expectant mothers. As well as intensive parenting and vocational training. In this way they can raise and provide for a happy and healthy child.
    As a citizen I MUST support and defend the Constitution of the United States. I, like every other good citizen, must follow the laws of this land. We must obey the law and Roe v. Wade is the law. Currently, nationwide, all of the polls show that the majority agrees with the current laws. It is only a vociforous minority that opposes the law. It is only a small minority of states whose legislatures choose to oppose the Constitution of the United States and pass laws in violation of the Constitution.
    Women in the United States of America have the right to choose whether or not to bear a child. Noone has the right to infringe that right not by law, not by force, not by coercian and not by intimidation. Not now, not ever.
    However, as opposed as I am to abortion, in conscience and in principle, I would rather see 1,000,000 fetuses aborted, I would rather see 10,000,000 pregnancies terminated than to see even one(1) unwanted, unloved, neglected or abused child.
    So I call on you all NOW… Let us all be civil. Let us find the common ground without rancor, anger or hatred. Many of those who support a womans Right to Choose would rather see fewer abortions. So if people of good will from the antiabortion camp can sit down with people of good will from the Right to Choose camp. Both sides can find common ground and productive solutions. Isn’t that preferable to the anger, intimidation and, sometimes, even murder that currently accompanies the debate?
    Thank you for your kind consideration.
    Paul Diamond

  • harry834

    "if we educate more young people on ways to prevent pregnancy and the emotional, financial and physical resposibilities and consequences of sexual activity there will likely be fewer unwanted pregnancies."

    Does this include education about contraception and condoms, including the emergency contraception ("morning-after pill")?

    By the way, thank you for respecting our Constitutional right to choose.

  • brian-nguyen

    They're such a great organization. I was definitely influenced by their work as well. So many ads before this group came together really focused on the woman as the subject and created more of a somber tone. These ads subtly add a different perspective that really appeals to the male psyche. Rather than just changing behavior or trying to curb a behavior, they try to change an identity among males which lies central to any effective change in behavior. I'm all for it. If the male mind can be appealed to then we'll see change. The idea of appealing to a man's sense of honor and strength is huge, especially in the context of preserving machismo.

     

    Unfortunately, I did contact the organization asking if they would take me on to begin distributing images campaigning the idea of men being able to prevent unplanned pregnancy, however this was something that they were not yet prepared to do. I've since created images like the one you saw above in preparation for opportunities where they might be taken up by more established groups. If we're going to see any change in reproductive health policies and issues then we need to see change on both fronts. The audience whom we need to reach out to is the entirety of society.

  • harry834

    good response

  • invalid-0

    I’m on two abortion debate boards, and I haven’t met very many pragmatic pro lifers who see the reality that is.

  • invalid-0

    Plan B isn’t just for teenagers or young adults. It doesn’t matter what age you are, or whether or not you’re married, that condom can break no matter what your circumstances are.

    Contraceptive education is important for either gender at any age. Because it’s not just teens that are having sex or are fertile.

  • harry834

    sexuality,

    whereever humanity is