Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

A Gendered Perspective on Men's Reproductive Health

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

A Gendered Perspective on Men's Reproductive Health

Article excerpt

Key Words: reproductive health, men, gender, power

The aim of this article is to identify some analytical approaches to situate men within the reproductive health processes, which has been defined as having four basic elements: "the ability for individuals to reproduce, and to regulate their fertility; safe pregnancies and deliveries for women; successful pregnancies in terms of child welfare and survival; and partner relations that are free of the fear of unwanted pregnancy or diseases" (Barzelatto & Hempel, 1990; Fathalla, 1989). In 1994, at the Cairo Conference on Population and Development, freedom to enjoy a satisfactory sex life was agreed to along with the highest level of reproductive health being a factor of reproductive rights. The conference emphasized the reproductive health needs of all individuals, including men -- and by doing this, essentially determined that male reproductive health is a fundamental human right.(1) This thereby supports the possibility of rethinking gender relations in the sphere of reproduction.(2)

BIOMEDICAL AND DEMOGRAPHIC APPROACH

One way of analyzing the role of men in these processes is to identify the circumstances under which men are considered in the reproductive health discourse, the places in which they are absent and present, and how they condition favorable consequences for women's and children's health. Thus, it is possible to observe how men affect morbidity and mortality during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, in processes of fertility regulation, and in the occurrence of abortion. This can be achieved without necessarily challenging the premise that women are the only ones who reproduce or questioning the relationships of power that underlie the experience of sexuality and reproduction. Much work has been done on surveys of family planning, maternal and child health and, to some extent, sexually transmitted diseases, all of which are considered to be some of the integral components that shape reproductive health. Although in some cases these surveys lapse into oversimplification, the indicators they use reveal aspects that can help interpret some of the health and disease processes in the reproductive sphere. These surveys, however, have given little attention to or have ignored the gender relational dimension of sexuality and reproduction, as well as the characteristics of men's sexual and reproductive behavior. The assumptions used in this approach to interpret various aspects of reproductive health rely on the social actions developed to promote it.

Demography and medicine, disciplines that have studied reproduction, have not devoted special attention to analyzing the reproductive process in men. For instance, men are consistently absent from discussions pertaining to pregnancy. Moreover, there are no indicators for the study of fertility that incorporate men. In fact, social constructs have been validated in which maternity is presented as a central dynamic in the gender identity of women. Both these disciplines reflect a vision of men as being distant in the reproductive process, while women are portrayed as receptive and passive: "men make women pregnant, and women get pregnant." Furthermore, as fathers, men are also not expected to have much direct contact with newborn children, at least until they start to walk or talk. Thus, one of the central actors in reproduction is marginalized (with the complicity of men) from fully experiencing fatherhood at a time that is critical for bonding and thus influencing infants' personalities.

In current demographic analyses of reproduction, there are few interpretations that address the issue of power between the sexes. These analytical models legitimize assumptions about gender relations since the paradigms are based on concepts of gender that place men and women in opposing spheres. This type of analysis assigns men the privileged position of defining the socioeconomic context in which biological reproduction occurs. …

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