MCI Youth Advisory Board member Connie Dean sat down with her male partner, Riley, to talk though male contraception, unequal contraceptive burden, and what to do about it.
Whenever I first mention my work with MCI or even the notion of male contraception to my female friends, I am met time again with the same statement, “Oh men won’t take that, I don’t trust it.” I get it–we’re college students with our lives ahead of us, so this fear of pregnancy is self-preservation. Whether it’s individual experience or internalized social norms that conjure this fear and consequent knee-jerk rejection, the data shows that men would take contraception if it were available, and in fact they want it to be. Now, statistics are one thing, but in my quest to assuage the worries of my friends, I sought to humanize this side of the argument: I sat down with my (male) partner, Riley, to talk it through.
Having grown up with two sisters and his mother, periods and the female body had never been all that taboo for Riley. However, he pinpointed the open conversations that he and I have about contraception as his first exposure to the topic. He admits that he was “not aware, when [he] first came to college…about how the burden of birth control is almost entirely put on women.” Riley posited that whilst it shouldn’t be this way, “the direct concern is in the forefront of a woman’s mind…it’s completely unfair.”
So, what exactly can be done to change male views? To Riley, “it seems like a total lack of education…boys don’t have to think about it,” and that education from a young age may be the best way to tackle this. “I think you can teach this to adults, but for a long-haul thing you’d hope that it’d perpetuate in a culture instead of just re-teaching men after they make mistakes, right?” Whilst Riley as a case study reassures me that college-age men can change their views on the unequal burden of birth control, it is naïve to think this would be a universal quick fix. Education: that seemed to be where we agreed progress could be made.
With education identified, Riley had an intriguing point: “I think another thing is encouraging empathy…empathy is 100% required for men to understand the significance of the looming ‘threat’ or possibility of a pregnancy.” Perhaps, as women, openly discussing hardships that come with the birth control would remove a portion of the current shrouding stigma, and encourage a more empathy from men?
Right, so empathy and education seem to go hand in hand, and are more long-term solutions. But what did he think was the most effective thing in the short term for himself and other men? “1,000% an intimate relationship with a woman. Like, being there while you were having severe pains and listening to what you have to overcome to find [which birth control] worked best for you, and the stigma from the woman in your life, all the lack of support from men around you, even fathers and brothers…I didn’t know this was going on with my sisters! It just doesn’t cross our minds…it’s not mum’s, sisters’, and girlfriend’s jobs to do this. So maybe it’s about creating a space for fathers and mothers to teach their sons.” I realize he has a point. Our parents and our partners are our primary educators, and thus this education process must be a conscious effort amongst us all.
Being welcomed into my own female sphere was an eye opener for Riley: “being in a heterosexual relationship as a male is also this invitation to partake in the discussion with the woman in your life. When you get the inside look, it’s a common conversation point. The conversations I listen in on—that has been the most educational thing; seeing the shared experience.” Who knew the power of everyday venting?! Welcoming the men in our lives into these intimate conversations may be uncomfortable at first, but with the right intent and promise of respect real perspective growth seems possible.
Open dialogue, education, and empathy offer themselves as key ingredients for positive change in contraceptive responsibility in the male population. I understand the worry and doubt that comes with the female reproductive burden, but I am truly optimistic that I’ll see these worries subside as the years go on and we move onwards and upwards towards contraceptive equality.