Partner Involvement in Contraception and STD Prevention: What is Holding Men Back?
Contraception and sexually transmitted dis- ease (STD), in this day and age, are not uncommon terms among young men and women in Canada, the United States, and many other parts of the world. As a guest lecture in the McGill undergraduate course, Gender and Health, Rebekah Lewis, a PhD Candidate in Sociology who specializes in reproductive health issues, explained that sexually active young men and women face several preventable health obstacles related to high rates of unintended pregnancy, abortion, pregnancy-related death, and STDs, including HIV. These issues are especially rel- evant to the large percentage of women, particularly in the Western world, who spend the majority of their lives preventing pregnancy while remaining sexually active. Despite women’s efforts, in the United States in 2004, 43% of unintended pregnancies were due to inconsistent or incorrect use of contraception and 52% of unintended pregnancies were due to nonuse of con- traception (Frost, Darroch, & Remez, 2008). Further- more, as of 1996, there was a 25% increase in new cases of STDs across America (Makulowich, 1999). Pairing these high rates of unintended pregnancies and STD transmissions with the fact that approximately two- thirds of young men and women in developed coun- tries are sexually active by the time they are 18 years old presents an urgent call for strategies that will ensure individuals today are healthier, safer, and more in con- trol of their reproductive health (Makulowich, 1999). A wide range of medical and sociological research suggests that, among the many strategies intended to improve the effective use of birth control and condoms, increasing heterosexual partner participation is one meaningful approach to improving young peoples’ ability to sufficiently prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs (Manseau et al., 2008; Leighton et al., 1994; Smith et al., 2011). Considering this potential solution for improved sexual health, the underlying question re- mains: Why are heterosexual males not more involved in sharing the responsibility of contraception and con- dom use with their female partners? Although research only recently began to tackle this question, many studies indicate that socially constructed attitudes towards reproductive health, medicalized approaches to women’s bodies, hegemonic masculine norms, varying levels of risk awareness, and an overall disconnect between health services and sexually active populations are some main reasons for low male participation. This paper will briefly present research findings on each of these proposed determinants of reduced male involvement in heterosexual relations, while making links to larger, overarching sociological themes.
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