Understanding people’s perspectives around male contraception helps guide our work at MCI. Sharing them is a privilege as well as a mandate: it’s of strategic importance to us to facilitate and broadcast the interest for male methods in an effort to present the undeniable market demand for them. Normally this is done through the lens of our grantees, fellows, research community, or even the general public. But lately, we’ve been endeavoring to share the views of MCI’s staff as well. In that spirit, this is a conversation with our Communications & Marketing Director Kevin Shane in which he shares his thoughts about male contraception as well as his interest in working with MCI.
What do you think about male contraception?
Prior to joining MCI, I have to admit that I didn't really think that much about male contraception outside of condoms. Now, though, I really see it as a critical missing tool in our efforts to not only meaningfully improve unintended pregnancy rates but also in empowering men and couples in a way that there's no real analogy for. The advent of the female contraceptive pill brought with it a massive shift in relationship dynamics and the societal conversation around sex, reproduction, gender roles, and so much more. It's exciting to think about the many positive ways that society can and will benefit from new male methods of contraception.
What motivated you to work at MCI? What do you hope to accomplish at MCI?
My background is a fair bit different from my colleagues in that I have neither a public health nor a physical science background; my experience and expertise lies in communication and design. I spent much of the last decade living and working in the Global South, involved broadly in development work.
Specifically, I worked for a human-centered design firm on its "design for social impact" portfolio. This afforded me a front row view of some of the world's most pressing challenges. We worked with low- and middle-income people throughout Africa and Asia seeking to design solutions around financial inclusion, malnutrition, water & sanitation, resiliency in youth, and more. The experience was tremendous, but it only allowed me to work on a small part of a problem that is itself a small part of a much larger issue.
I was thrilled at the opportunity to work with MCI as I feel this work, helping to provide new solutions to the world's unplanned pregnancy challenge, helps get at the heart of the challenge that all others stem from: overpopulation. Empowering men and couples with new resources that allow them to choose whether or when to have children is extremely rewarding, and makes coming to work each day a privilege.
My hope and intention is to bring my background in communications and human-centered design to bear on MCI's advocacy efforts. What that looks like in practice is really just trying to use our outreach channels (e.g., social media, podcast, films, etc.) really as platforms to share the perspectives and insights of our grantees as well as the general public. My goal is to ensure that male contraception is a topic that people talk and, more importantly, care about. This way people are clamoring for the products once they make it to market.
What are some things that you wish everyone knew about male contraception?
It would be great if everyone, particularly men, knew that there are really only two male methods right now (condoms and vasectomy), and that this is a travesty for everyone. It's ludicrous that couples do not have more methods to choose from. People's needs evolve over time, generally, but especially with respect to contraception. A preferred method at 18 is highly unlikely to be the preferred method at 35. Women have to navigate this journey without the option of simply choosing 'none' and allowing their partner to shoulder the responsibility. That adds imbalance and inequity in a relationship and it can be addressed if people advocate for and demand new male methods. And this is arguably the biggest point, and wish: it's going to take people demanding these methods for action to really take place. The funding will follow, but the demand has to be undeniable first.
What impact do you think new male methods of contraception will have on the world?
I don't know that we fully appreciate all of the positive ways that new methods of male contraception will have on the world. The first and most obvious is that it will provide another resource for couples trying to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. The parallels between population growth and rates of unintended pregnancy are striking: both are around 85-90 million per year. Male methods could help reduce both of those figures, which will have tremendously positive ripple effects across many of the world's challenges from conflict to climate change.
Beyond that, though, the sky is the limit. Think about all that has happened since The Pill was introduced ~60 years ago. We have a long way to go, but that one pharmaceutical helped usher in seismic shifts in society's relationship with sex and its treatment of women. The social impact component of female birth control was not something anyone could really consider beyond speculation, and it's the same with where we are and have been with the next male contraceptive. There will be challenges along the way, as with everything, but I think there's going to be a huge, positive shift in relationships and male involvement in family planning once men have the tangible resources to participate fully.
We will continue sharing more perspectives from our team, our grantees, and members of the general public moving forward. Want to lend your voice to the conversation? Reach out to us and share your thoughts today!