Although safe sex is a responsibility for both men and women, birth control has long been left as a woman’s duty. If men got involved in the responsibility for contraception as much as we are involved in sex, we would see a reduction in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
In this article, I will discuss the importance of men’s involvement in reproductive health as well as creative ways for us to take on the responsibility of safe sex, especially starting this discussion without feeling awkward or weird. If you are a man, pay attention; and if you are a woman who wants to get her partner more involved in this process, share this article with him and start a conversation.
1. Take the lead in discussing birth control
Men tend to limit their involvement with sex to just pleasure. Due to poor socialization and education about sex, we assume that since we cannot get pregnant, birth control doesn’t concern us and is mainly a woman’s matter. However, this is not the reality, because in the case of an unplanned pregnancy, we will be equally responsible for whatever happens. Also, STDs don’t differentiate between women and men, and we need contraception to prevent them. That is why it is important for men to take the lead in discussing birth control with their partners. Doing this in advance makes it easier for both parties to make the right decision.
As we tread into this territory, we should remember that sexuality is greatly influenced by culture and religious beliefs. For example, in some Kenyan cultures, it is considered rude to directly ask for or make sexual suggestions or references without using some form of euphemism. Hence, marriage is referred to as getting a “jiko,” and when a girl is pregnant, certain ethnic groups say, “the goat’s leg has been broken.” When having a discussion on birth control, we should consider our partner’s background and beliefs, and depending on this, as well as our partner’s temperament, we can either be direct or humorous.
2. Research and identify different methods and providers
Men rarely help their partners choose the ideal birth control method and service providers because we are never involved in the conversation about birth control in the first place.
When we contribute to this process, it helps in better decision-making and reduces the chances of choosing unsuitable birth control methods.
This conversation can best be introduced during the birth control discussion. Doing this together can increase your bond and if done well, can even build up anticipation to a more intimate sexual experience.
Depending on the nature of our relationship, there are a variety of options available:
- Short-acting hormonal contraception, such as birth control pills;
- Long-term contraception, such as an intrauterine device (IUD);
- One-time barrier contraception, such as condoms; and
- Sterilization, such as tubal ligation (for women) or vasectomy (for men).
When identifying the right birth control, we should consider our partner’s cultural compatibility and religious beliefs. A case in point is how most of the catholics in Kenya, who make up 80% of the Christians, believe that the use of condoms or any other contraceptive is evil. It is a good idea to talk about this beforehand and agree on a method that is safe and works for both of you.
There are other key things to consider before, during, and after we identify an ideal birth control method, for example, effectiveness, reversibility, comfort, convenience, side effects, and method acceptability to both of you. Also, we need to have emergency or back-up plans in case the regular method fails, e.g. in case a condom breaks.
3. Go to appointments and pay for birth control with your partner
Birth control comes at a cost, literally! Getting a contraceptive requires investment of both money and time; as men, we should be contributing to this expense equally. Aside from the responsibility of getting the contraceptive and bearing the side effects, women also unfairly shoulder the financial burden of birth control, and the least we can do for something that equally benefits us is accompany our partner to the health-care provider and offer emotional and financial support.
While this makes us a responsible partner, it also helps challenge cultural norms and stereotypes, which look down upon women who buy or possess contraceptives due to the stigma associated with sex and generally make it harder for people, even when they are adults, to openly discuss sex and contraception. These cultural beliefs emphasize virginity as a form of purity and see sex as wicked. This leads to the stigmatization of romantic relationships and strong gender stereotypes. The language around these topics is also very secretive. For example, the recent urban slang in Kenya refers to sex and sexual organs as “vitu”. This is Swahili for “things”. This pseudo understanding of sex leads most youth to have their first sexual encounter in secrecy, fear, and uncertainty. It exposes them to sexual and reproductive health risks.
Becoming more involved in the birth control process by educating ourselves, having open conversations about sexuality with our partner, booking appointments and visiting health-care providers, planning for future meetings, and paying for birth control are ways we can all address these wrongs.
4. Help deal with side effects
As mentioned above, contraceptives have side effects; they are normal but might persist for several months when a woman starts using a new method. Helping our partner through this period can make it easier for them to deal with the side effects and that is why it is important to know about them beforehand. Sometimes, we don’t know how to help because we are unaware and feel disconnected; this happens if we are not involved in the process from the start. Initial involvement makes talking about and dealing with side effects more natural and expected.
One of the side effects to look out for is a latex allergy from condoms – one of the most common contraceptive methods in Kenya. If our partner is allergic to latex, they might have itchy rashes and a runny nose; anti-allergy pills; soothing lotions, like calamine; or an anti-itch cream can be used. Another common contraceptive is the morning after pill, commonly known across Kenya as the emergency pill, e.g. P2 or Femiplan, and some of its side effects include nausea and breast tenderness. We can make ginger or clove tea with cinnamon and prepare a nice warm bath to help ease the symptoms.
Each contraceptive comes with its own side effects. Being part of this whole process right from the start makes us well-informed and equipped to deal with them together.
5. Consider male birth control methods
Most birth control methods are for women, and people are too rigid to explore alternative methods for men. This puts extra pressure on women, even when they have health conditions or struggle to access birth control.
Involvement in the birth control journey and looking at options together makes it easier for us as men to make considerations. Currently, there are only two contraception methods available to men: condoms and a vasectomy. There is also ongoing research about the male pill. This could be a great addition to the available birth control options.
As a responsible partner, we should look up the pros and cons of all the available methods. And settle for one that is agreeable and works best for everyone involved.
6. Campaign for better rights for women and more options for men
Birth control and abortion rights are either non-existent or ignored in many countries. It is important that men raise their voices to address these issues to support women. Birth control activism is gaining momentum in Kenya. This is evident in the rise of groups like the Kenya SRHR Alliance, a consortium of 17 civil society organizations and institutions. These groups work to promote the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people, women, and the marginalized.
Joining the fight for better rights is a way for men to campaign for women’s uninterrupted access to health services. And to seek more and better male contraceptive options. We can do this passively, by donating to local organizations, or actively, by joining protests and awareness activities. The more voices we have, the easier it will be for policymakers to make favorable decisions.
One of the current campaigns we can join online is about youth-friendly, accessible, and quality Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services. Another campaign is about asking local governments to increase the SRH-related budget. This is to improve sex education and for research into better alternatives and male contraceptives. Such participation can shift the focus of government policies and help ensure that contraceptives are available and affordable for everyone.
When men intentionally choose a responsible sex culture, we actively eliminate fear and uncertainty. This lead us to create more complete sexual experiences with our partners. We don’t just want more men speaking about better sexual reproductive health and rights. We want all men speaking about it.
Do you have something to share? Leave your comments below, contact us on our social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or send us an email to [email protected] For more information on contraception, visit findmymethod.org
About the author: Chris Mukasa is a writer and creative based in Nairobi, Kenya. He is also the Founder of Fatuma’s Voice, a community organization that uses creative tools like art, poetry, open-debates, and music, to encourage expression by youth across Africa.