As a woman, I can remember from a young age having to understand my body’s capacity to get pregnant. While I, from the mechanics point of view, certainly understood that a man would be involved in this process (it was years later that I would learn about wonderful advancements such as IVF), the education I received from school, health care professionals, and those around me was clear: preventing pregnancy was my responsibility, and I had to know what contraceptive options were available to me. I had to know how often I would need to replenish my supplies, how much it would cost me, how long it would take to go to the clinic or pharmacy to pick them up; all the while being aware that each option was critical but nonetheless impacted my body, and how I related to it.
When I learned that as a young women without children I was, despite medical advice to the contrary, eligible to ask for a Long Acting Reversible Contraceptive method (LARC), I fought for and finally got a copper-IUD inserted, which is a non-hormonal contraceptive option which can safely prevent pregnancy, without any replenishing or doctor visits, for up to 10 years. Now that I’m thinking of having children some time in the next few years, I’ve started to think about what options I will use to ensure healthy spacing of my children.
Ensuring that women are able to access contraceptives is absolutely critical, and a key target that must be included in the post-2015 agenda. But I hope that we can reach for an even higher goal, and challenge the way we often talk about contraception and preventing pregnancies. For one, women must not only be able to access contraceptives, but have access to a full basket of options, and information and counselling from a young age that ensures each woman knows what options she has and have the opportunity to try different options until she finds the one that works best for her, which may still change as she goes through her reproductive years.
But we must also ensure that men (particularly heterosexual ones) have similar information and counselling, and from a young age learn to think about and have a plan for how they will prevent unintended pregnancies, how they will support their partners, and what contraceptive options are available to them. Many male contraceptive options have been tested, such as an ultrasound and the male pill, though don’t seem to make it much beyond initial testing, despite many men making clear their interest in having more agency around preventing unintended pregnancies and their desire to share the burden of pregnancy prevention with their partners.
Nevertheless, despite that fact that men currently may have limited options—condoms and then vasectomy when they are sure they no longer want to have children—these are nevertheless critical options, and understanding their own role will also help them better understand how to support their partner(s) in accessing contraceptives that work for her, and for them. As we celebrate International Day of Action for Women’s Health, let’s ensure that a strong focus on access to, information about, and options for contraception is available to women and men from a young age and throughout their reproductive years.