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Rebecca Wind
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ATTENTION TO MEN'S SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH OVERDUE

New Report Shows That Neglect Undermines Healthy Relationships and Nation's Efforts To Reduce Unintended Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Disease

In the first-ever comprehensive compilation and analysis of national research findings on the sexual and reproductive health needs of men in the United States, The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) has identified information and service gaps with serious consequences for men, women and families. "In Their Own Right: Addressing the Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs of American Men" finds that from first sex to marriage to parenthood, men lack essential information, access to important services and, in many cases, even awareness that they have sexual and reproductive health needs of their own.

"In treating major public health problems such as unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases primarily as women's issues, we as a country have been fighting with one hand tied behind our back," said Sara Seims, AGI president and Chief Executive Officer. "In order to take the next steps toward building a healthier society, we must pay more attention to men, who have sexual and reproductive health needs in their own right, as well as in their roles as partners and fathers."

Many of the study findings on men mirror what previous studies have found for women. On nearly every indicator--including age at first intercourse, marriage and divorce rates, early fatherhood and living apart from their biological children, rates of sexually transmitted disease (STD) infection and health insurance coverage--poor men fare worse than better-off men, and minority men fare worse than white men. However, several findings specific to men were particularly noteworthy.

Most American men begin sexual intercourse in their teens, and half have married and become fathers by their late 20s. This means that men spend an average of nearly 10 years being sexually active and unmarried.

Half of births involving men in their late 20s, and about one-third of those involving men in their 30s and early 40s, result from unintended conceptions.

At least one-third of pregnancies involving men in their teens and early 20s end in abortion, compared with no more than a quarter of pregnancies in which the men involved are in their late 20s and in their 30s. One-third of pregnancies involving men in their 40s end in abortion.

American men have an average of two children; many men are fathers to stepchildren, adopted children and foster children. One in 10 men in their 30s have biological children who do not live with them.

Men now spend more time than their fathers did in helping to care for young children, but only half as much time as mothers doing nothing but taking care of children.

At least one-quarter of men aged 15-29, 17% of men in their 30s and 12% of men in their 40s had more than one sexual partner in the last year.

More than two-thirds of young men who became sexually active in the mid-1990s used a condom at first intercourse, compared with about one-quarter in the early 1980s. Still, four in 10 men aged 20-27 erroneously believe that condom use presents health risks.

Most men have heard of HIV, AIDS, gonorrhea and syphilis, but far fewer know about genital warts or are aware that chlamydia can infect men. One in five men have limited knowledge about how to prevent these STDs.

Only about 14% of men aged 15-49 make a sexual or reproductive health visit annually; younger men, who are at the greatest risk of unintended pregnancy and STDs, are the least likely to make a sexual or reproductive health care visit.

Although men are involved in pregnancies--intended as well as unintended--and are affected by STDs, there is no commonly agreed upon definition of sexual and reproductive health care for men, and few health professionals are trained to meet men's needs. Essential services, including information on how to prevent transmission of STDs, counseling regarding relationships and parenting, and medical sexual and reproductive health services, are often unavailable.

The report concludes that helping men obtain the sexual and reproductive health information and services they need to protect their own health and well-being also should result in lower levels of STDs, fewer unwanted pregnancies and births and better parenting.

"We were pleased to find that many men are, in fact, doing quite well. However, comprehensive sexuality education that provides young men information they so desperately need is in danger, and programs truly addressing men's needs are few and far between," Dr. Seims explains. "Our findings make it clear that in order to promote healthy relationships, we need to go beyond existing policies and programs, and pay attention to the importance of information, counseling and services--for men and women. What increasingly is seen as good for men in their own right should also ultimately benefit men and women as individuals, couples, their families and society as a whole. "

METHODOLOGY

In Their Own Right is based on published and unpublished data from national surveys conducted by universities and research institutions, as well as data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bureau of the Census and the National Center for Health Statistics. Because of data limitations, the report focuses on the sexual and reproductive health of men who have sex with women in the United States, and excludes men who are in the military and men who are in prison. Additional information on the study's methodology can be found in the full report.

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