Don’t Overlook Male Engagement in Preventing Teen Pregnancy

In recognition of Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, we are presenting a series of posts about our work with the project.

JSI is providing training and technical assistance to nine state and community-based youth-serving organizations and partners, as part of the “Working with Diverse Communities” component of the federally funded initiative, Teenage Pregnancy Prevention: Integrating Services, Programs, and Strategies Through Community-wide Initiatives.

Males are half the equation when we’re talking about teen pregnancy prevention. So unless we bring young men into the conversation about family planning, pregnancy prevention, and healthy relationships, we are not making lasting change. Male engagement in these issues is crucial, and has been a passion and a commitment of mine since I first started working in public health.

One of the hurdles we have to overcome is the gender norms prevalent in some communities on how we view masculinity. Cultural attitudes that support “machismo” – which pressure men to show no emotion or vulnerability, to be aggressive, and to be dominant in relationships with women – can be detrimental to boys developing healthy relationships, the kind that empower teens to make positive decisions about sexuality and pregnancy prevention.

In our work with the federally funded  grantees in this program, we have opened eyes to the importance of teaching young men to examine and overcome harmful attitudes about masculinity. Such training can also help young men to seek help in other health matters – preventing HIV and STIs, for example.

While male engagement isn’t a requirement for our grantees, I’m pleased that the organizations we  are working with have made it a commitment. National models of engagement have shown that a holistic approach to meeting the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs of male adolescents  is more effective than a clinical encounter or a workshop on ways to prevent pregnancy. Young men are seeking this engagement and it would be helpful to involve them with the same respect and care afforded to young women at the highest risk for becoming young mothers.

Optimizing reproductive health services for young men calls upon clinics and youth serving organizations  to create linkages with a range of supportive services such as recreation, employment and training, and spiritual guidance that promote healthy social development, a positive self- image, meaningful interpersonal relationships, educational attainment, and integration into the formal economy. This approach becomes the prescription for optimal SRH and requires creating partnerships with nontraditional partners as well as the mobilization of resources in a community-wide supportive environment

With JSI’s encouragement, grantees  are seeking partnerships with community organizations to deliver programs that include boys and young men. I’m excited about partnerships, that our grantees have established in their communities. There is a program at a college fraternity in Alabama  would engage young men at the ages when they most commonly become teen fathers, around 18 to 19 years old.  And another grantee was able to secure funding to implement programs for young men in schools in Springfield and Holyoke, MA.

Some of the key best practices for engaging young males in early pregnancy prevention include:

  • Don’t make young men an “add-on” to the program, integrate them from the beginning.
  • Address gender norms. Attitudes related to gender roles can prevent males from seeking services.
  • Create a “male positive” environment. For example, consider the décor in the waiting area of a health center.
  • Incorporate peer mentoring opportunities.

Family planning and reproductive health programs are generally women-centered. But in my view, that leaves a huge gap. As the mother of two boys myself, I’m pleased that they have had the opportunity to grow up in a community conducive to friendship and healthy relationships with girls. In so many TPP programs, young men are left on the side, as if they don’t matter. Boys need our support and attention as much as girls do.

You can find a number of our male engagement training presentations at the website: http://rhey.jsi.com/training-archive/