An Early Men’s Clinic Opens in 1976 ... and Closes 6 Years Later

More than 40 years ago, the San Francisco Health Department opened a men’s clinic dedicated to providing medical and reproductive health services and disseminating information on family planning and contraceptive methods. The clinic was modeled on women’s health programs that had emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s; one of its main goals was to engage men in birth control decisions with their partners. In those dark days of the pre-Internet era, the clinic opening was widely publicized on television and radio, and in newspapers and magazines.

This chapter in U.S. reproductive services history was documented in 1984 by Philippa H. Gordon and Laurie J. DeMarco in “Reproductive Health Services for Men: Is There a Need?” Prior to the clinic’s opening, health department planners realized that “few men in the San Francisco area themselves perceived an urgent need for male reproductive health services,” but they believed that a clinic that provided free checkups, STD treatment and condoms, as well as fertility awareness classes, would fill an unmet health care need for the city’s population. In the clinic’s six and a half years of operation, it recorded more than 7,000 patient visits, one-third of which were for counseling only—about contraceptive methods, premature ejaculation and impotence, and sexual arousal in women.

Evaluation of clinic services showed high levels of patient satisfaction, though it also revealed that what men wanted the most were job physicals and free condoms. Eventually, the two-pronged mission of clinical services and family planning education led to programmatic conflict and high staff turnover, the novelty of the clinic wore off and patient numbers declined. The authors noted that “the concept of family planning services for men paralleling those for women did not prove cost-effective.” The clinic closed in 1983, bringing to an end an early experiment in how to provide reproductive health services to men and engage them in family planning.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine