“You Are A Man. Why Are You Interested in Family Planning?”


It happens frequently when I meet someone new.  We each say what work we do, and then he or she says, “You are a man.  Why are you interested in family planning?” 

This is a problem.  Most people perceive family planning and reproductive rights as women’s issues.  I think that is largely the fault of those of us who work in the field of family planning and reproductive rights. We talk primarily about the benefits this field has for women’s health and autonomy.  While these benefits are great, I believe that when we focus only on them, we fail explain to many audiences why they might also be interested in family planning and reproductive rights. 

Many men do, of course, care about family planning. They value the ability to plan when to become fathers. They want to be protected against sexually transmitted diseases, and they support the health and wellbeing of women.

However, it is no secret that many people–voters, leaders and politicians–are not particularly interested in women’s health and autonomy.  That is sad and wrong. While we work to change that, we can also simultaneously highlight issues of widespread interest that are greatly affected by family planning. 

Here is my list of some reasons why family planning and reproductive rights matter beyond women’s health and autonomy.  What else would you add? 

Family planning and reproductive rights:

  1. Help families stay out of poverty. Given the current national focus on jobs and economic growth, there is no better time to highlight how the ability to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is central to financial stability for women, men and families (and probably communities and nations as well).
  2. Improve children’s health and wellbeing.  Children do better when they are born to parents who want them and are able to provide a stable environment for them. I think that few average voters and elites make this connection. And the linkage is not front and center when they consider topics like sex education, contraception or abortion.
  3. Reduce teen pregnancy and its associated social costs (and, of course, its impact on teen parents’ opportunities for education and career choices)
  4. Protect the environment by reducing population growth.  Population growth is a significant contributor to many environmental problems including habitat loss and greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Promote global security by reducing rapid population growth that can lead to large numbers of young people with no jobs and lots of time on their hands.  While the relationship between population growth and political unrest is complex, it provides potential for developing a new constituency for enhancing family planning and reproductive rights.

There is nothing particularly new on this list.  Several individuals and organizations within our field have talked about these benefits for years. However, I think talking about these connections is the exception, rather than the rule, when people in our field talk about the benefits of family planning and reproductive rights.

Sadly, when many people hear family planning and reproductive rights, they still do not make the connection to poverty, children’s wellbeing, teenagers’ prospects for success, the environment, and global security. By talking about these connections and highlighting the many varied benefits that family planning and reproductive rights offer, I believe we can expand our support. 

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  • mrpisces

    This is conversation worth continuing. I don’t have the same experience as Peter, but I am pretty sure that Peter could say more about his experiences.

    First, I have never heard anyone say “You are a man. Why are you interested in family planning?” . However, I have read in their eyes and heard it in the tone of their voice. More often than not they seem to fall into certain categories.

    1. They are anti-choice

    2. They are generally suspicious of men

    3. See Peter’s comments.

    All in all that is not the reaction I get from women. The more common reaction is “Thank you,…. so tell me why you actively supporting family planning ?” Its should be obvious that there are two things going on here. First, the difficult and daunting task of defending family planning and especially the right to choice has been a “women’s cause”, a cause in which women have an overwhelming representation as supporters and leaders. When they observe men as active participant in the cause, there is an unmistakable appreciation of “He gets it.” The second part is a curiousity of why you are involved. At times there is an expectation of a story, but they know that your story is not going to be the personal experience of how you came to have an abortion so they don’t know what you are going to say. They are not sure how they will connect with you as a shared experience. Its not all anxiety or uncertainty, there is a fascination and expectation of maybe a new insight.

  • mrpisces

    I don’t but I should more often. I kind of want it to be a powerful stump speech.

    The classic conversation I have with other men is that we agree that it is self evident that women should have the right to choice and that we would never support an anti-choice candidate.

    This is cause which need to grow quickly, and the quickest way to grow is actively encourage men to join the ranks of active supporters for family planning because they are underrepresented. There are different challenges in this kind of campaign, but it needs to be done.

  • crowepps

    There’s another powerful reason you should add explicitly — men have mothers, aunts, sisters, wives, daughters and granddaughters.  The current ProLife push to ban ALL abortion no matter what the reason it is necessary is going to kill women.  The current ProLife push to defund Planned Parenthood no matter what service they are providing is going to kill women.  Chances are, one of them will be one of those women you love.

     

    Men have an interest in family planning because they don’t want the women they love to die.

  • tcinphilly

    I’ve been waiting for ANYONE to put this in a man’s perspective because it’s primarily men who are trying to take away funding for family planning. (I’m a woman.) I applaud your environmental arguments because very few people have the guts to say this about population growth in our own country.

    We are falling behind as a country and perpetuating a cycle of poorly educated families that will create a downward spiral for all of us. (Companies won’t want to be located here with unskilled workers.) Unplanned/unwanted pregnancies will perpetuate this cycle. Not that the men who are doing this care (or maybe this is a bonus for them), but women with lots of children are generally not in positions of power, and in my opinion, we need WAY more women in power so that this sort of thing is tossed aside as complete idiocy by a miniscule minority. This is not our situation today and it’s very scary to feel powerless against what’s happening.

    I still think your emphasis should be on MEN. Talk about how men (not “teen parents”) who need to support a new child have to drop out of school in order to work. (Is there any relationship between lack of education and crime/lock-ups?) Put it all in a man’s perspective. I seriously think that the men who are pushing to defund family planning — education, annual checkups, the works — aren’t empathetic enough to realize that this will affect the women in their lives. Of course, they have health insurance so it won’t personally affect them — and their women keep their mouths shut about this stuff. But they can’t extrapolate or feel anything toward women they don’t personally know. If they haven’t gotten out of their own world or spoken with people who are unlike themselves, they won’t have any understanding of how family planning affects other people.

    Oh, and keep writing about this. PLEASE. Everything else I see coming out of Planned Parenthood (today they linked to this article) is from a woman’s perspective. They are preaching to the choir. I love them — don’t get me wrong. But we need other voices that will be heard by the jerks who seem to think women don’t matter.

  • pumpkinpjays

    First off, I wanted to say THANK YOU for such a brilliant editorial piece.  I wish this was required reading for every American citizen.

     

    I’m a reproductive health nurse-practitioner, and family planning, reproductive rights, and population control are all vested interests.  I wouldn’t know what it’s like for men actively working in reproductive health.  I would believe you get such stupid questions as, “Why are you interested in family planning?,” as if it’s not an issue that affects us all.  Our country increasingly, erroneously assumes that any reproductive and family-related issues are women’s issues.  This is grossly simple, not to mention blatently insulting to men.

     

    Our egotistical, child-obsessed society can be a lonely place when you fully believe that everybody should become parents if and when they choose, as well as have basic access to healthcare and unbiased information.  With these convictions, many people assume that I (a) am angry, (b) hate men, and/or (c) dislike babies and kids.  When you don’t fit the mold that society prescribes to you, people will plug you into the opposite category without considering the other alternatives.  And there are always other alternatives. 

     

    Thanks again for the wonderful piece, and for everybody who posted the above comments.  It’s wonderful to start the day by hearing from such open-minded, enlightened individuals! 

  • susmart3

    …the elephant in the room?

     

    That indeed, it does take MALE and female to create the baby.

    So why shouldn’t this be an equally male responsibility?

  • arekushieru

    Although, I would disagree that it is largely the fault of those who work in these fields.  I believe that the fault should be laid at the door of those who attack women’s reproductive rights.  Ours are the ones who constantly come under fire from them, so it’s no wonder that defending women’s reproductive health is where the majority of attention is given.  Much like the reason that abortion gets played up so much more than other pregnancy options in the ProChoice/ProLife debates.  

    However, I would say that there is one additional point that has been ignored.  The fact that those who benefit from privilege have an invested interest in ensuring women’s health and well-being, after all, privilege is where these attacks on women come from. 

  • sschoice

    Try this next time someone asks “You are a man.  Why are you interested in family planning?”

    1) Say “Because I love women.”

    Take notes.

    2) Then say “…and because I love families.”

    Take more notes.

    Really short, provocative answers can give more insight into how another person thinks than asking questions which otherwise might not be answered directly, anyway.  :)

    —southern students for choice, athens

  • prochoiceferret

    1) Say “Because I love women.”

    Take notes.

     

    “Anti-choicer responds ‘Oh, so you’re a pervert’ with disdainful look”

     

    2) Then say “…and because I love families.”

    Take more notes.

     

    “Anti-choicer gasps, face turns white, says ‘You horrible, depraved excuse for a man!’”

  • ahunt

    Spew. You have no shame, PCF. 

     

    1) Say “Because I love women.”

    Take notes.

     

    “Anti-choicer responds ‘Oh, so you’re a pervert’ with disdainful look” …or…“So you are one of those lustful men who use women for sex without consequences.”

     

    “UH… no…been relatively happily married for 15 years, and since my vasectomy, three years ago, my wife has been using me for sex absent consequences with wild abandon.”

     

    “Oh, so you are BOTH perverts”…or…“Wild Abandon? Soooooo….are vasectomies covered by insurance?”

     

    Reply

     

     

  • crowepps

    Actually, vasectomies are not only covered by insurance, but also can be funded with OUR TAX DOLLARS!  Not in Catholic hospitals, of course.  And I’m sure the Catholic Church is doing its best to stop vasectomies at OTHER locations as well.  It’s weird, isn’t it, that men who never have sex, men who may have NEVER had sex, are so fixated on other people’s sex lives.  Or maybe not — it’s pretty much a classic case of repression leading to obsession and perversion.

  • prochoiceferret

    “UH… no…been relatively happily married for 15 years, and since my vasectomy, three years ago, my wife has been using me for sex absent consequences with wild abandon.”

     

    “Anti-choicer quickly follows up w/ ‘Ah, but you said “women,” plural, so clearly you’re one of those ungodly promiscuous heathens who has sex at the drop of a hat with any slut willing to so much as lay eyes on you. I’ll bet you don’t even know how many orgasms you’ve had in your lifetime. I’ve had three.’”

     

    “As anti-choicer was leaving, thought I heard sobbing noise.”

  • ahunt

    Naughty Crowepps, PCF…

     

    “I’ve had three.”…

     

    ….”all self-induced. Damned, I am!….damned!

     

    Fixed that for you, Ferret

     

     

  • arectaris

    Numbers four and five are wildly inaccurate, with five being especially egregious.

  • tcinphilly

    Most people don’t like the “population” arguments. Can you please explain your cryptic responses to four and five?

  • tcinphilly

    <please delete>

  • prochoiceferret

    Numbers four and five are wildly inaccurate, with five being especially egregious.

     

    Since this comes from an anti-choicer, it must mean that numbers four and five are particularly accurate, with five being especially courageous.

     

    Of course, if this anti-choicer thinks s/he has an argument that says that unrestricted population growth is good for the environment (especially when we’re already beyond the earth’s carrying capacity as it is), and that global security is enhanced by having a lot of jobless bored youths hanging around, at least it’ll be entertaining to hear.

  • ack

    perpetuating a cycle of poorly educated families that will create a downward spiral for all of us. (Companies won’t want to be located here with unskilled workers.) Unplanned/unwanted pregnancies will perpetuate this cycle.

     

    You are obviously a very well-meaning man. Being in support of a full range of reproductive rights for women and girls means supporting their choices to have sex when they’re ready, have an abortion, or have a child, regardless of their educational or economic background.

  • arectaris

    I don’t think you fully understand what carrying capacity is. It isn’t a fixed number. Carrying capacity is determined based on how humans live. If humans want to live extravagantly, then carrying capacity goes down. If we want to live modestly and within our means, it goes up. If everyone, for example, wanted to live like the U.S. or any other developed country then the carrying capacity of the earth would be rather small, at around 500M or so people. This would be because developed countries use a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources, and even use more resources than they need. On the flip side, if everyone used only what they needed, the earth could support up to forty or so billion people. Anyone who says that “we’re [already] beyond the Earth’s carrying capacity” is simply reciting the doomsday rhetoric which has been promoted throughout the ages by people such as Thomas Malthus, Jared Diamond and even Paul Ehrlich, and is failing to take into account not only technology, but how that population lives.

     

    On the topic of the earth being past its carrying capacity, if this were true, shouldn’t we see massive worldwide famines. If the earth is past it’s carrying capacity, why has food production has continued to outstrip population growth? What exactly is the earth’s carrying capacity, that we have passed it?

  • prochoiceferret

    I don’t think you fully understand what carrying capacity is. It isn’t a fixed number. Carrying capacity is determined based on how humans live. If humans want to live extravagantly, then carrying capacity goes down. If we want to live modestly and within our means, it goes up. If everyone, for example, wanted to live like the U.S. or any other developed country then the carrying capacity of the earth would be rather small, at around 500M or so people. This would be because developed countries use a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources, and even use more resources than they need. On the flip side, if everyone used only what they needed, the earth could support up to forty or so billion people.

     

    Great. So all you have to do is convince everyone in the world to live “modestly and within their means,” and not like people currently do in the U.S. or any other developed country. What do you think they should give up [hope of ever attaining] first: Automobiles, meat, or low-density housing?

     

    Anyone who says that “we’re [already] beyond the Earth’s carrying capacity” is simply reciting the doomsday rhetoric which has been promoted throughout the ages by people such as Thomas Malthus, Jared Diamond and even Paul Ehrlich, and is failing to take into account not only technology, but how that population lives.

     

    Yes, I suppose that if you had technology that would allow a human being to have a Western-industrialized-developed quality of life using no more resources than an indigent, starving Ethiopian peasant farmer, then the world would be all set. Well, at least as long as you don’t mind living in a mega-metropolis as dense and expensive as central Tokyo, and get over your silly obsession with parkland and other “unproductive” uses of Earth’s bounty.

     

    On the topic of the earth being past its carrying capacity, if this were true, shouldn’t we see massive worldwide famines. If the earth is past it’s carrying capacity, why has food production has continued to outstrip population growth? What exactly is the earth’s carrying capacity, that we have passed it?

     

    I’ve seen it estimated at around 1-3 billion people, depending on the per-capita resource-usage numbers. And you’re forgetting that our consumption of non-renewable (a.k.a. unsustainable) resources, like petroleum, plus the fact that much of the world’s population still lives in poverty and squalor, means we’re not feeling the full consequences of having passed that mark yet.

  • colleen

    On the flip side, if everyone used only what they needed, the earth could support up to forty or so billion people.

    This one is unpardonably stupid and destructive.

  • crowepps

    We are having a massive worldwide famine, one child at a time: 8 million children die every year from malnutrition and its effects.

  • prochoiceferret

    This one is unpardonably stupid and destructive.

     

    Yep. I love how on the one hand, he dismisses the “doomsday” scenarios, but on the other hand, he takes it for granted that people would just willingly “use only what they needed.” It’s as if he’s never met someone who drives an SUV and stridently bites the head off anyone who suggests switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Heck, I even remember GWB part-justifying the second Iraqi War by saying it was necessary to preserve “our quality of life” (read: our high-consumption lifestyle).

     

    Forty billion people, indeed. I’ll bet he thinks fifty people could share a studio apartment as long as they “use only what they need,” too.

  • crowepps

    I suppose we could all live in a “cube” — but I can’t imagine where I would keep my books!

     

    http://www.cubeproject.org.uk/

  • wendy-burnett

    I think the fastest way to interest men (especially young men) in family planning is to point out that it also protects them. A young man who doesn’t use some type of birth control can end up with child support payments for multiple children, limiting his options for schooling, housing, etc. The law doesn’t allow for joblessness when child support is due, and if you DO have a job, but aren’t paying, your wages WILL be garnisheed. (If you’re not working, and not paying, many states will suspend your driver’s license. If that doesn’t make you start paying, a warrant is issued, and as soon as you’re found, off to jail you go.)

  • selfbuildconservatoriesuk

    it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. there’s so much to consider when it comes to having children not only women but men should also be concerned about this as well.