Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What do men think of birth control?

The British reproductive health organization Family Planning Association has just released a survey on men's attitudes towards birth control, and they came back with some pretty interesting results.

An overwhelming 94% of men aged 18–45 years old in the UK agree that using contraception is the joint responsibility of men and women. Encouragingly, only a tiny fraction of men believe contraception is a woman’s issue and that they have no control over pregnancy. But, says fpa, many men still aren’t putting their own contraceptive needs first. This is according to a new survey investigating men’s attitudes towards contraception, published today for fpa’s annual Contraceptive Awareness Week (11–17 February 2008).

[. . .]

Asked to choose which statement about contraception they most agreed with, 60% of men said ‘men and women should always discuss using contraception together’ while 22% of men most agreed ‘if a man doesn’t want to get a woman pregnant he should use condoms every time he has sex.’

fpa’s Chief Executive Julie Bentley said: “By thinking about using a condom first, this group of men are taking power and control of their own body to prevent pregnancy, completely independently of what women are doing. But these men are in the minority.

[. . .]

“The only real opportunity men have to exercise choice about what they want is at the contraception stage. Although talking about contraception with your partner is essential, it isn’t the first step. fpa would like to see more men following the lead of this empowered group, who are thinking very positively about themselves and putting their own reproductive needs first.”

The research also shows men would use hormonal contraceptive options in development like the male pill, with 36% of men saying they would use it, and 26% saying they didn’t know if they would use it or not. Being married or single also doesn’t affect whether men want to take the pill or not.

“We should be more confident about encouraging new contraceptive choices for men” said Julie. “Clearly they want to be involved. But almost half of men either told us they didn’t have enough information (35%) about the 14 different types of contraception available or didn’t know (9%). [Note: these are the available contraceptive methods, as defined by PPRSR.]

Though we don't know if these results represent the attitudes of American men as well as British men, they are worth taking a look at. And there's both good and bad news. The good news is that more and more men are realizing that birth control is an issue they should care about and are responsible for. It's also great to see that so many men would consider taking a birth control pill, and we look forward to the day when one exists! But it also turns out that men are not getting as much information about birth control as they need, and that many men don't realize the importance of taking control of their sexual health.

Of course, it's not necessary for heterosexual men to use condoms to prevent pregnancy if their partner is on a hormonal method of contraception. The pill, for example, is highly effective when taken properly. But pills can be forgotten, and even with perfect use, no method is full-proof. For that reason alone, having a back-up method is a great idea for those who are very adamant about avoiding pregnancy. Of course, condoms are also vital to preventing STD transmission.

But Bentley makes a good point: prevention can be a man's only say when it comes to unintended pregnancy. Because women are the ones whose bodies are affected, they are the ones with the right to make pregnancy decisions. Most women do consult their partners on the issue, but the choice is ultimately hers. This is how it should be, but it does given men an extra reason to be cautious. Men who use condoms are protecting their partners, and that's a great reason, which we should applaud. But it seems that many forget they're also protecting themselves!

One commenter thinks that the results of the survey don't tell the whole story:

Daily Record Sex Columnist Alex Hooper-Hodson disagreed with the findings and said men may talk about social responsibility but wouldn't practice what they preach.

"Some 94 per cent of men might say it's their joint responsibility but the same amount of men will also think it is the woman's job to remind them of that responsibility," he said.

"If you look at men's attitude towards sex, it's always going to be different to women.

"They might say that it's a joint responsibility but if it comes down to having sex, what's on their minds is not the social awareness but actually having sex."

And he doubts men would take the male pill, if available.

"Our biological imperative is to have sex, rather than to have babies, so no matter what we might think about this, we're never going to be in the same place as woman are with regard to contraception," he said.

It seems that Hooper-Hodson is selling men short. Most of us know from talking to the men in our own lives that many do care, and claiming that they don't is only going to shut them out of the conversation. Saying that men and women's attitudes towards sex will always be different is also pretty simplistic. Does that include the attitudes of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people? Since when do all men and all women think alike on anything, and why would we assume that views won't change? Even if he were right, "biological imperative" hardly gives men an excuse to be irresponsible. There are a lot of valid if unfortunate reasons why people don't use contraception, including cost and access -- "biological imperative" isn't one of them!

Can't we give men a bit more credit than that? If this survey is an accurate guide, it seems like we should.

No comments: