Sex Ed Programs for Young Men Can Promote Gender Equity in Preventing Unintended Pregnancy
The burden and responsibility of preventing unintended pregnancy disproportionately fall on women. This responsibility encompasses the physical burden of using contraception, including side effects; the financial costs of paying for contraception and attending medical appointments; and the stress that accompanies the possibility of unintended pregnancy. While most contraceptive methods are designed for female use, men in heterosexual relationships can support their female partners as they make decisions about contraception and share the financial and emotional responsibilities of preventing unintended pregnancy.
In this brief, we present qualitative research findings—based on young women’s and young men’s responses to interview questions—about how young people perceive the gendered burden of pregnancy prevention and ways that male partners can alleviate this burden. While this brief focuses on findings related to knowledge and communication about contraception, our previous brief presents young men’s thoughts about other topics covered in the program, such as gender norms, consent, and racism.
Implications for Future Programming
Both the young women and young men in our study reported a desire for more gender equity in pregnancy prevention efforts. Our findings suggest that sex ed programs designed for (or that include a focus on) young men, such as Manhood 2.0, can reduce the burden placed on young women and promote gender equity in unintended pregnancy prevention by:
- Providing information about all types of contraceptive methods, how they work and their effectiveness, and their potential side effects
- Teaching communication skills to help young men engage in knowledgeable, supportive, and non-pressuring conversations with their partners about contraception
- Teaching young men to ultimately respect their female partners’ decisions about contraception
In Spring 2020, Child Trends conducted eight virtual focus groups with 31 Black and Latinx women ages 16 to 25—a group that, both historically and in the present day, has been underserved in reproductive health spaces—to inform programming for Manhood 2.0, an innovative sexual health program designed for young men ages 15 to 22. We asked these young women how they felt they could be best supported by their male partners in pregnancy prevention efforts and what they thought sexual health programs should teach young men. These interviews were part of a larger pilot evaluation of Manhood 2.0 that Child Trends conducted in 2017 and 2018. The Manhood 2.0 program examines rigid gender norms and partner communication about sex, and aims to prevent intimate partner violence and support female partners in contraceptive use. In tandem with the female virtual focus groups, Child Trends interviewed 14 former (male) Manhood 2.0 participants almost two years after their participation in the program to better understand young men’s knowledge of female contraception and how young men feel they can support their partners in pregnancy prevention. This brief presents findings based on feedback from both the young women and men who participated in the study.
Findings from focus groups with young women
Young women want their male partners to play a larger role in pregnancy prevention and engage in conversations about contraception.
Many female focus group participants described the unequal burden placed on women to use contraception and reported that they would like young men to share more in accountability for reproductive outcomes. One participant said, “I feel like [young men] should also be willing to protect themselves. Put a condom on and everything. It shouldn’t always just be down to the woman …” While these young women noted that many contraceptive methods are designed specifically for females, they also wanted young men to engage in conversations about—and support women’s decisions related to—contraception. According to one respondent, “As a girl, I know that it’s my responsibility to make my choice. But I think as a [male] partner, if this is someone that you truly care about, you should talk to [your female partner] about it.”
However, some young women discussed how a lot of men are “uncomfortable with having those conversations [about sharing responsibility],” and observed that “when you bring up stuff like [contraception] around guys, they make it seem like, ‘Oh, that’s something you’ve got to handle.’” Despite this perception, young women want young men to engage in, and even initiate, conversations about contraception so that the burden does not always fall exclusively on young women. These young women believe that men are less comfortable than women with having conversations about contraception because young men assume that women have more knowledge and responsibility on the topic. Therefore, young women want young men to be educated on female contraceptive methods and how they work so that they can knowledgably engage in conversations with their partners about contraception birth control use in a supportive, non-pressuring way.
Sex education programs should educate young men on contraceptive methods and how to have conversations about contraception in a knowledgeable, supportive way.
In response to questions that asked what sex education programs should teach young men about contraception and supporting their female partners, young women noted the importance of educating young men on various female contraceptive methods. This education should include the effectiveness and potential side effects of specific methods and should focus on communication skills to facilitate more open conversations about contraceptive use and decisions. According to one participant, “sex is a two-way thing, so the more [young men] are informed, the better.” Another participant said sex ed programs should teach young men about the different types of contraception and ensure that they know the “actual facts” about methods to debunk myths commonly found on social media, such as contraception causing infertility.
Overall, the young women agreed that educating young men about female contraceptive methods can lead to more equitable relationships because young men will 1) be able to initiate and knowledgeably engage in conversations about contraception in a supportive, non-pressuring way; 2) be more supportive and understanding of side effects, such as weight gain and mood swings; and 3) respect their female partners’ decision to use or not use hormonal contraception.
“An advantage [of men being educated on contraception] would be that you can actually sit and have conversations with your partner about it. So you won’t have to think of everything on your own. You can actually have conversations and talk about it and get insight on what you want to do or get.”
Findings from interviews with former Manhood 2.0 participants
Sex education programs like Manhood 2.0 can equip young men with the knowledge and communication skills they need to support gender-equitable pregnancy prevention.
Our findings from interviews with former Manhood 2.0 participants also suggest that gender-transformative sexual health programs could help reduce gender inequity in pregnancy prevention. Like their female counterparts, some young male respondents identified concerns with the burden placed on women to prevent pregnancy: “Guys usually just be like, ‘Get on birth control, so we can just [have sex] anytime.’ And they don’t really think about, for the pill, needing to constantly be on time for that. Or making sure your appointments for your shots are taken care of. Making sure that the person’s insurance even covers certain things.” Young men also explained how gender-transformative programs like Manhood 2.0 can help their peers see contraception as a “discussable topic” between partners, rather than as solely a female’s responsibility.
Several young men reported that they wanted to be involved in unintended pregnancy prevention efforts, and mentioned ways in which they could support their partners in making decisions about contraceptive use—for example, by initiating conversations about contraception and contributing knowledge about different methods. One participant said, “I feel like [young men] should take the time to think about, learn the positives and negatives of [contraception], and then they just speak with their partner about it … I think they should really discuss it together.” Former Manhood 2.0 participants reported increased knowledge of contraceptive methods and more confidence in talking with their potential partners about using contraception. One participant said, “Before the program, I didn’t know much about female birth control … but once I got into Manhood … I was able to see that there’s a lot of other different methods that we can use as well. And they helped me understand and be able to have that conversation [with a partner].”
The young men and women in our study highlighted the importance of involving men in efforts to prevent unintended pregnancy and, as a result, to reduce the gendered burden placed on young women. Providing young men with accurate information about contraceptive methods and improving their communication skills through gender-equitable programming can help enhance their role in preventing unintended pregnancies.
This publication was made possible by Grant Number 5U01DP006129, which is a partnership between the Office of Population Affairs (OPA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Research and Demonstration Program, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Reproductive Health. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the OPA, HHS, or CDC.