On Sexism in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Change on the Horizon
It takes two to make a baby or avoid unplanned pregnancies and yet…
A woman can only get pregnant once or, in some instances, twice in a year. Depending on his virility, meanwhile, a man can get a handful of women pregnant each day of the year if he wanted to. That’s one (or two) is to 365 at the least. Yet women are the ones primarily held accountable for avoiding unplanned pregnancies and all the birth control semantics that come with it.
There’s only about 5 days each month where a woman can get pregnant and contraception causes THE worse side effects but men who are fertile for pretty much everyday for majority of life are the ones that don’t need contraception? I hate the patriarchy
— nell (@QuenelleAshley_) November 27, 2018
Sexual and reproductive health does not reactively or coincidently just favor men. It was designed to be so. Of the 15 known forms of contraception, 13 are meant for women with the 14th form of birth control being sterilization (meant for both sexes) and the 15th being the male condom. Even the male-oriented birth control Spermicide, a substance that destroys sperm, is used on the woman and not the man.
If this kind of back-bending for the male species says anything it’s not that women make the more accommodating gender, but that the format used in sexual health itself is sexist. There’s a lot worth revisiting and changing up.
This is something obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Lyra C. Chua, MD, of The Medical City agrees with wholeheartedly. In her 28 years of practice, she says reproductive health has always been skewed to favor men. Coupled with archaic aspects of Filipino tradition, the landscape can get a little bleak for the ordinary Filipino woman. “In families, for example, how dinner is apportioned says a lot about the standing of women. Choice cuts in a chicken dinner typically are reserved for the man of the house, so that’s the father. The next cuts go to the children,” shares Chua. “The mom will make do with whatever is left. The woman––especially the Filipino woman––has a sacrificing nature.”
Of Stark Contrasts and “Duty Calls”
Men and women are built differently, of course. Organs are not one and the same, neither are their roles, the manifestations of sexual maturity or required routine maintenance. Still, the main difference lies in the different upbringing of men and women.
“The main difference, as I see it and as I’ve observed, is that a man doesn’t have to be as on-top of his sexual health,” says Chua. “The woman, meanwhile, is used to going to her OB-GYN regularly. It’s an acquired habit: they know to come in every year for their regular checkups. They have the pap smear, the annual ultrasound and other exams. Men don’t have to acquire this mindset where they have to go to the doctors annually to check on how things are doing down there. At least, it’s a good thing that with our wellness programs, men are now more aware about the state of their reproductive or sexual health. But again, it’s because it’s part of their company’s HR protocol. It’s built into their company’s healthcare.”
As far as sexual health consciousness goes, Chua says that awareness is low with men. The burden of knowledge––apart from action––falls on the woman.
I just saw a commercial for a service that lets men get Viagra “discreetly” by mail without ever speaking to a doctor or pharmacist, but sure, makes total sense that many women need to get birth control 1 month at a time and a pharmacist can deny it if they don’t approve.
— Celeste Ng (@pronounced_ing) November 24, 2018
Consider again the Filipina hoisted in this setting. Apart from tradition dictating she be raised to be polite and graceful, she is nurtured by earlier generations of Filipino women to be a person for others, too. Years of reinforcement have led not only to subscribing to the innately sexist sexual health format, but to women giving way for the sake of keeping the peace.
“Aside from the fact that men put a lot of responsibility over contraception on women, they, in addition, sometimes feel the need to control the kind of contraception the woman is going to use,” adds Chua. “A lot of women are unable to give us their decision on things relating to their body without consulting with their husband first, too…when in fact, strictly and legally speaking, a woman does not need the consent of her husband when it comes to matters of her body.”
For family-oriented women set on maintaining family harmony, evidently, “her body” doesn’t always equal “her rules.”
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A Game-Changer Is Coming
Progress on the front of the male birth control pill may have slowed down, but there is new hope on the horizon: experimental tests by U.S. government scientists are now underway for a new birth control method for men. NES/T, treatment in question, is a hormone-infused gel meant to be applied to the back and shoulders that temporarily stops sperm production.
“Many women cannot use hormonal contraception and male contraceptive methods are limited to vasectomy and condoms,” Diana Blithe of NIH’s Institute of Child Health and Human Development told the New York Post on Wednesday. “A safe, highly effective and reversible method of male contraception would fill an important public health need.”
Now that a potential shift lies ahead, the question now is: will men be susceptible to adopting a new sexual health regimen in the name of birth control? The hope is that the answer is yes.
Art Alexandra Lara