This blog post is by Jaylan Weaver, a 2020 MCI intern from North Carolina Central University.
As an undergraduate student at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), the Department of Public Health Education requires seniors to complete an eight-week internship with a public health agency. I viewed this experience as an opportunity to jump-start my professional life as a newly emerging health educator. Picture this…“Jaylan Weaver, Health Education Specialist”…I like the sound of that. Eager to contribute my knowledge and skills to an organization, I was encouraged to complete my internship with the Male Contraceptive Initiative (MCI) , a local nonprofit organization in Durham, North Carolina. At first, when I thought about male contraceptives, the only thing I could think of was condoms and vasectomies. However, after the first week of reading and learning about MCI, I was exposed to the vast number of male contraceptive methods currently in development. I love science, particularly biology, so learning about all of the different methods and how they affect male physiology motivated me to learn all I could.
All public health education students are assigned a special project that encourages them to demonstrate the roles and responsibilities of a health educator. By the end of the planning period, I was tasked with understanding how unintended pregnancy affects men mentally and socially. My preceptor, Heather, helped me narrow my focus for my special project; I decided to focus on male attitudes and experiences with unintended pregnancy because most academic literature is focused around women’s experiences with unintended pregnancy. I originally planned to conduct focus group discussions with young men on NCCU’s campus to understand their views on unplanned pregnancy; however, the COVID-19 pandemic limited all face-to-face interactions. So, from the comfort of my campus apartment in Durham, I developed a survey questionnaire to fulfill the role of my focus group discussion.
The purpose of my survey and health promotion project is to understand how young reproductive-aged men view unintended pregnancy. I found this topic to be fulfilling not only because I fall within the target audience, but because there isn’t much literature on family planning from a male perspective. In a world where we strive to be more inclusive, I believe that understanding male experiences is important in moving towards a healthy reproductive future for everyone involved. The target audience for my survey was men between the ages of 18 and 44. Seeing as though I didn’t have an extensive mailing list of men at my disposal, I turned to my close friends and relatives to gather my survey data.
Thirty responses. What previously seemed like an impossible number to reach was achieved in just a few short days with the help of my personal connections. I analyzed the demographic questions to notice that most of my respondents were between the ages of 18-30 and were African American. Also, most men were sexually active and planned on having children in the future. Over 90% of the men surveyed believed that both partners are resonsible for contraception in a heterosexual relationship. A vast majoity of men believed that they should be involved in all parts of the family planning process in a heterosexual relationship. Family planning involves having access to the necessary means to start or take care of a family when you see fit. Many survey respondents explained how they believed a man’s involvement in family planning includes communication, emotionally supporting their partner, and financially contributing to the family. However, when asked “do you believe that currently women should be the sole decision makers in pregnancy termination”, the responses were split almost evenly between “Yes”, “Maybe”, and “No”. The distribution of these responses show that men have differing opinions about how their voices should matter in deciding how to handle pregnancy situations. However, it is important to ensure that women are afforded all of their reproductive rights under the same circumstances.
The survey responses show that men feel that both parties are responsible for contracepting in a heterosexual relationship and that they should be involved in all parts of the family planning process. Men want to be involved in family planning in ways they can consider the thoughts and feelings of their loved ones, while maintaining their own mental and emotional stability. The act of starting a family or contracepting in a relationship should be a collaborative effort between both partners. Survey respondents were asked about advice they would give to a young man who finds out his significant other is pregnant. Many responses included being supportive of the significant other, taking responsibility, and communicating with their partner; essentially, providing that collaborative support that men want to be able to provide. These survey responses provide MCI an opportunity to see how men think about family planning. Understanding men’s attitudes and feelings can help shift the social paradigm towards a future where women no longer experience the greatest burden of contraceptive use.
One day soon, there will be contraceptive options for men that give people more autonomy over their reproductive futures. A time will come where men will be able to have the responsibility they’ve been looking for in the form of a pill, a patch, an implant, or a gel. Until that time, I hope that scholars around the world will work to understand men’s attitudes around family planning and unintended pregnancies. The benefits to understanding lesser-known perspectives can help organizations like MCI shape the contraceptive landscape in ways people have never seen. As I continue through the professional world as a health educator I am hopeful that I will be able to see male contraceptives available for commercial use and know that I contributed to understanding the potential consumers.