SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH (SRH) has historically been most concerned with population control and, consequently, the fertility behaviour of women. In addition, SRH has predominantly been approached in negative ways, using scare tactics and other means that make addressing SRH difficult. In this context, SRH has focused primarily on controlling women’s bodies and reproduction, rather than on ensuring women the choice and freedom to make the decisions appropriate for their life and context, or on how to understand one’s SRH needs. In the last twenty years, reproductive rights (and far less frequently sexual rights) have also become part of mainstream SRH frameworks as women’s rights organizations from around the world have fought for the rights of women to have more agency and choice over their bodies and reproductive decisions. While these efforts have been critical and have advanced sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for everyone around the world, little attention has been placed on the specific role of men and boys in SRHR, both for improving their own SRHR as well as their partners’ SRHR. Where there has been attention placed on men and boys, it has generally been with the assumption that their SRH needs could be addressed by simply adding extra services on to existing ones traditionally tailored to women. A result of placing the burden of SRH on women and inadequate attention on men’s SRHR needs has been that women must bear the majority of the responsibility for their own and their families’ sexual and reproductive health. This exacerbates gender inequality, leads to poor health outcomes, and detrimentally excludes nearly half of the population. Perhaps most potentially dangerous of all, women-only SRHR does nothing to challenge the mentality that men are not responsible for their own or their partner’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. We must continue to support and promote accessible SRH services and freedoms for women; these are critical services that still and always will need a lot of support. But it is not a zero-sum game. By engaging men in SRHR and gender equality, we can be even more effective in building helpful and preventive services for both men and women, as well as promoting healthy and happy relationships in our communities.
One of the most important things to remember about building male involvement in SRHR and gender equality is that men, as well as women, benefit a great deal from it; SRH is not just a women’s issue. Research has consistently shown that men are keen to be more involved, and women are generally supportive of their partner’s increased participation.i Engaging and educating men around their own sexual and reproductive health is imperative in preventing STIs (including HIV), preventing unwanted pregnancies, and reducing the burden of these issues on women. In addition to seeing men as partners and parents, however, it is also important that men are seen as individuals with male-specific sexual and reproductive health needs. These include medical male circumcision (MMC); male-specific STI symptoms; male-specific family planning needs, male infertility; erectile dysfunction; and prostate and testicular cancers. Not only will addressing individual SRH improve men’s health outcomes; promoting and encouraging men to address their own sexual and reproductive health is also good for women’s health outcomes.