With the midterm elections last week and the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the abortion debate is front and center. But what seems to be missing from the conversation is the men.
The short of it is that sex leads to pregnancy. Discussions often emphasize what a woman should do — to not get pregnant and if she does get pregnant. But it takes two to tango. It’s time we emphasize the man’s responsibility, both in pregnancy and in preventing it. After all, they are equally responsible and equally capable.
Guys who aren’t ready to risk becoming fathers should consider not having sex. Abstinence is the only sure-fire way to prevent pregnancy. No other birth control option is 100 percent effective. If a guy is not ready to be a father, he should not risk getting his partner pregnant at all. To do so would be irresponsible.
Guys should initiate conversations about safe sex. Men who do choose to have sex should do so safely. But safe sex first starts with learning about it and talking about it. An abstinence-only approach to sex education will not prevent pregnancies, so parents and educators must teach about consent and the mental and emotional impacts of sex outside of committed relationships and how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Armed with that knowledge, couples then need to talk about safe sex. The guy should initiate this conversation. He should assure his partner that he understands the risks of sex, will always engage safely, and will accept responsibility if they do get pregnant.
Guys should always use condoms. They should also provide them. Condoms are only available form of male birth control (excluding vasectomies). But they are sold almost everywhere and are very affordable, sometimes even free.
Of course, women who are not ready to be mothers should also use birth control. But, as the consequences of unprotected sex fall disproportionately to the woman, it’s only fair that the man do his part to prevent pregnancy in the first place.
Guys should consider that condoms don’t always work. Condoms are good at preventing pregnancy, but they are not fool-proof. If used perfectly, every single time, condoms are 98 percent effective. With typical use though — accounting for human error and other factors — they only work 87 percent of the time. In other words, two to 13 percent of men who use condoms will still get their partners pregnant each year.
Guys who become fathers should take responsibility for their children. Most importantly, this means the man acknowledges his role in procreation. But it also means he’s involved in what comes next.
I don’t believe abortion is the answer, nor do I minimize the impact that carrying a baby to term and raising a child will have on a woman’s life. All post-conception options are only possible with significant social and financial safety nets. But before the mother’s community steps in, the father must.
If the parents choose adoption, the father should support the mother during pregnancy and delivery. This may look like financial support, transportation to appointments, and taking the lead on the adoption paperwork.
If adoption isn’t an option, and whether the parents stay together or not, the father should be an equal partner, ensuring that parenting doesn’t fall solely to the mother. This means getting connected to resources, seeking joint custody, contributing financially, and helping carry the emotional weight of parenting.
All of this is easier said than done, especially when culture shies from personal responsibility. So, we need to flip the script. Responsible men — and good fathers — don’t need to be the exception; they can be the rule.
We must teach young men about cause and effect, risk and benefit, and accepting consequences. We must also include guys in conversations about reproductive rights and birth control. Every time we ask a woman what she’s doing to not get pregnant, it’s imperative we turn to her partner and ask him what he’s doing, too.
Plus, we need to dismantle parenting double standards. When a woman parents, we say she’s just doing her job. When a man parents, we lavish him with praise. But fathers don’t babysit. Without challenging these stereotypes head on, we continue to endorse the idea that guys can get their partners pregnant with no consequence to themselves.
Pregnancy isn’t just a “women’s health” issue. We owe it to women everywhere to teach guys how to prevent pregnancy. There should be just as much expectation on men to responsibly engage in sex as there is on women to deal with the consequences.