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RHO archives : Topics : Men and Reproductive Health

IGWG Theme Statement: Adolescent Boys—Meeting Their Needs and Addressing Gender Equity

As the world�s population of young people 10-24 years old reaches 1.7 billion, the largest cohort of young people in history, increasing attention has focused on providing youth with the skills and services necessary to make healthy reproductive decisions. Programs and services for youth, like those for adults, often focus on young women, and do not adequately address the needs and roles of young men. Furthermore, programs often fail to address the influence that male and female gender roles and inequities have on sexual decision-making. Because the behaviors and values of boys and young men affect the health and well-being of girls and young women, reproductive health programs are likely to have greater impact with the constructive involvement of young men.

Why focus on adolescents?

Adolescence is a developmental stage of tremendous biological, social and cognitive change. Attitudes and values about "correct" behaviors are learned and internalized. For boys, these can include viewing girls and women as sex objects, condoning coercion to obtain sex, and equating sexual prowess and multiple sexual partners with manhood. Youth is also a time when homophobic attitudes and behaviors form, often deriving from efforts to exaggerate masculinity and reject traits that are perceived to be feminine. Homophobia has led to human rights abuses and violence, not infrequently perpetrated by young men.

Yet, the formative years of adolescence are also the time that young men may be most receptive to more equitable concepts of masculinity and to new and more informed perspectives about their roles and responsibilities in reproductive and sexual health, and intimate relationships. As a result, programs need to include attention to young males—as early in the socialization process as possible, to ensure that boys are exposed to gender equitable values and norms, and that positive and respectful attitudes and behaviors toward women and sexual minorities are reinforced.

Problems facing adolescent males

Across cultures, men are socialized to be dominant, aggressive, and to take risks. These qualities may have harmful consequences for both young men and their sexual partners. Young men who identify with these traditional views of manhood are more likely to have used drugs or alcohol, to perpetrate or be a victim of violence or delinquency and to have practiced unsafe sex. Young men often face social pressures to initiate sex at a young age, have multiple sexual partners, or have their first intercourse with a commercial sex worker.

What we can do

Although greater research about adolescent male health needs, priorities, perceptions and service utilization is needed, field experience suggests that some strategies that have succeeded in engaging adolescent boys as partners in improving reproductive health:

  1. Reach young men where they congregate—schools, workplace, community (discos, video arcades, pool halls, military, etc.) with information and programs based on a gender equity perspective. Because many at-risk boys are not in school, a variety of venues through which to reach boys is preferable.
  2. Diminish negative perceptions of boys as aggressive and disruptive by promoting positive views of young men and engaging boys as allies rather than enemies.
  3. Teach boys about conflict resolution, anger management and violence prevention.
  4. Identify adult and young men who have gender equitable relationships as mentors and role models. Interaction with positive male role models creates lasting impressions.
  5. Combat homophobia, which reinforces traditional masculine identities and condones ostracism, violence and violation of human rights, through programs that promote respect for those who deviate from traditional norms.
  6. Include the information adolescent boys want (for example, about sexual pleasure and performance, masturbation, myths, body image) in educational programming.
  7. Promote reproductive health services for young men—familiarize young men with services, sensitize providers to young men�s needs, develop outreach programs.
  8. Offer multi-faceted low-cost services that holistically address adolescent boys� needs beyond reproductive health, including substance use, violence prevention, economic opportunities, etc.
  9. Provide confidential and timely reproductive health information and counseling through telephone hot lines, radio call-in programs, newspaper columns and the Internet.

Source documents

AVSC International and IPPF/Western Hemisphere Region. 1998. Male participation in sexual and reproductive health: New paradigms symposium report. AVSC International/IPPF WHR: New York, New York.

Barker, G., 2000. What About Boys? A literature review on health and development of adolescent boys. World Health Organization, WHO/FCH/CAH/00.7 Geneva.

FOCUS on Young Adults. December 1998. In focus: Reaching young men with reproductive health programs. Pathfinder International: Washington, DC.

International Planned Parenthood Federation/WHR, Program approaches in youth sexual and reproductive health, http://www.ippfwhr.org/whatwedo/youthapproches.htm.

Laack, S., et al., 1997. Sexual and reproductive health for young men: Some clinical experiences from Sweden. Swedish Association for Sex Education: Sweden.

UNFPA, 2000. Partnering: A New Approach to Sexual and Reproductive Health. Technical Paper No. 3. UNFPA, New York, New York.

USAID Inter-Agency Gender Working Group, Subcommittee on Men and Reproductive Health, July 20, 2001

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