Making Strides in Sexual and Reproductive Health Services for Men

Reproductive health care has traditionally focused on women. This makes sense: Most effective contraceptive methods are female-controlled, and women disproportionately deal with the consequences of unplanned pregnancy. There has been, however, growing acknowledgment of men’s need for sexual and reproductive health care. Margaret M. Schulte and Freya L. Sonenstein, writing in 1995, recognized that little was known about the delivery of reproductive health care to men and surveyed family planning clinics that provided such care. They identified several reasons for clinics to reach out to men, including the desire to reduce STDs among female patients by treating their partners and the rise in STD rates overall. Ultimately, the authors outlined some of the barriers to reproductive health care for men, which included insufficient funding and the perception that family planning clinics are for women.

Research such as that by Schulte and Sonenstein helped to inspire an initiative by the Office of Family Planning of the DHHS to fund clinical and educational reproductive health services for men starting in 1997. A decade later, Debra Kalmuss and Carrie Tatum explored the potential impact of that initiative, using data from the 2002 NSFG, the first to include men. They found that half of 20–44-year-olds who had ever had sex with a woman had received no sexual or reproductive care in the year before the survey, and only three in 10 had received services other than a testicular exam. Furthermore, patterns of the services received varied by race, age and insurance status. Kalmuss and Tatum concluded with a number of recommendations—the development of standards for men’s reproductive health care, communication of the standards to providers and clients, provider training, and advocacy to ensure government funding and insurance coverage—all of which are a part of reproductive health care for men today.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine