Ideally, the decisions to have sex and use contraception are made by two consenting individuals. It seems logical, then, that initiatives to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancy should include men. However, this hasn’t always been the case, as policy and program prevention efforts have almost exclusively focused on women. Research also suggests that many young men think that avoiding pregnancy is a woman’s responsibility. But unplanned pregnancy can have a deep and long-lasting impact on the lives of young men who may, for example, feel increased pressure to drop out of school to find a job.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of Adolescent Health funded the implementation and evaluation of innovative programs designed for young men (ages 15 to 24) to reduce the risk of teen and unplanned pregnancies. One such program is Manhood 2.0, which encourages young adult males ages 16 to 22 to discuss gender norms, masculinity, and fatherhood as a gateway to a broader discussion on violence prevention, contraceptive use, and pregnancy prevention. Child Trends is collaborating with Promundo and the Latin American Youth Center to evaluate Manhood 2.0.
National surveys ask men to report on female birth control use, although it is not clear that such reporting is accurate. Evaluations focused on increasing male involvement in reducing unplanned pregnancy, including Manhood 2.0, often ask young men to report whether they use condoms and whether their female sex partners also use birth control. Men know about their own condom use, but generally may be less aware about which birth control methods their female partner is using, especially if they can’t physically see the method. A Child Trends study found that young men inaccurately reported the use of birth control in more than 1 in 5 young adult couples. This lack of knowledge could place couples at risk of unintended pregnancy, especially when the young man assumes his partner is using birth control when she isn’t.
There are several promising strategies designed to improve male communication with sex partners about birth control and pregnancy, as well as male reporting of female birth control methods. These strategies (also addressed by Promundo’s Manhood 2.0 program) include:
- Providing female birth control information in pregnancy prevention programming for males: By giving young men information on female contraceptives and how they work, providers can dispel young men’s uncertainty and allow for accurate reporting in evaluation assessments.
- Modeling partner communication about sex and birth control use in programs: Young couples’ effective communication is vital for preventing unplanned pregnancies and promoting contraceptive use, regardless of the type of relationship.
- Highlighting the role of young men in preventing unplanned pregnancy and challenging harmful attitudes and norms around what it means to be a man: Learning to critically question society’s definitions of men’s roles and identities in relationships may positively impact men’s intimate relationships and their own health and well-being, including their role in pregnancy prevention. Better describing the role of condoms in pregnancy prevention—and including strategies to negotiate condom use and other birth control use—may also increase young males’ understanding of their role in pregnancy prevention.
Because it’s important that both young women and men are actively involved in pregnancy planning and prevention efforts, it is critical that agencies, philanthropists, and other stakeholders continue to support prevention program efforts and evaluate their effectiveness. This support should include funding for research to better understand how to improve male involvement in pregnancy prevention and, ultimately, reduce high rates of teen and unplanned pregnancy in the United States.