College Men’s Willingness to Pursue Male Hormonal Contraception
College men considering male birth control may be less worried about unplanned pregnancy risk and more concerned about how men using hormonal birth control are perceived, according to a new study by Laurel Peterson, Meriel Campbell, and Zoë Laky from Bryn Mawr College.
Their study adds to previous research on men’s attitudes towards “the male pill” by looking at the social forces that may drive men’s choices.
While a marketable, long-acting, and reversible male hormonal birth control product has yet to be approved for public use, medical research testing male hormonal contraception is in progress.
Male hormonal birth control would be the first new form of contraception developed for men in over a century. Public health researchers report that 45% of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Among men who are at-risk for experiencing unplanned pregnancy, only around a quarter consistently use condoms, and less than half have female partners who consistently use contraception.
However, if male hormonal birth control were to revolutionize family planning approaches and correct the disproportionate responsibility women bear in pregnancy prevention, men would need to be interested.
Peterson and colleagues surveyed a sample of 160 undergraduate students who identified as men to learn more about this issue, presenting them with information about how male hormonal contraception would work. The survey questions measured their willingness to pursue hormonal birth control, their risk of unplanned pregnancy, their perceptions of the type of man who would use hormonal birth control, their masculinity/avoidance of femininity, demographic information, and their past sexual behavior.
The majority of college men expressed at least some willingness to use hormonal birth control. 35.00% expressed high interest, 42.50% expressed some interest, and 22.5% expressed no interest.
Men who guessed they were at a high risk of unplanned pregnancy were not significantly more likely to show high interest in using hormonal birth control compared to the other men. Peterson and colleagues referenced previous literature suggesting that most men can understand the value of male hormonal birth control for pregnancy prevention, but the understanding may not translate into an active interest in using contraception.
Instead, men in the survey who had positive perceptions of the type of man who would take hormonal birth control were most likely to show an interest in using hormonal birth control. This shows that positive prototypes may be an effective way to motivate men to pursue hormonal birth control. Additionally, men were more willing to take hormonal birth control if they thought other men would use hormonal contraception, but the research also showed that higher masculinity beliefs of avoiding feminine behavior (or endorsing the avoidance of feminine behavior in general) may drive men away from hormonal birth control. Men who valued masculinity most in the survey were some of the least likely to show an interest in birth control, likely out of fears of emasculation.
Peterson et al.’s (2018) research provides important guidance for researchers, care providers, and public health officials looking to understand or promote the use of male hormonal contraceptives if and when they become widely available.
It suggests that providing positive examples of men using male hormonal contraceptives may increase interest in this pregnancy prevention solution and suggests that more effective family planning needs to involve challenges to men’s reluctance to engage in “feminine” behavior that would compromise their masculinity.
The authors suggest that further research should use experiments to test whether messages that target college men’s perceptions of norms, images, or masculinity could enhance men’s interest in using hormonal contraception.
Including male hormonal birth control’s place in societal and cultural norms alongside clinical concerns could aid in advancing more equitable family planning care for men and women.