About 40 percent of births reported by men are unplanned, according to a new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute. According to fathers — who are often left out of the conversation about family planning strategies — about two-thirds of those unintended births are mistimed, and about one-third are unwanted.
The study’s authors point out that there hasn’t actually been much research into men’s role in unintended pregnancy. But, after collecting data from the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth, they found that men’s experiences with unplanned births significantly vary by age, education level, ethnicity, and marital status. Single men are more likely to contribute to unplanned pregnancies — three out of four of the births reported by single men were unintended. And more than one in ten single men said that they didn’t even know about the child they fathered until after the child was born. Unintended births are also more common among younger and less-educated men.
“We need to include men in our discussions about unintended pregnancy and foster strategies to help men work as individuals and with their partners to control when or if they have children,” the study’s lead author, Laura Lindberg, explained in a press release. “Regardless of a man’s marital status or race, his community and health care providers should recognize his fertility desires and empower him to plan his family.”
Men’s role in preventing unplanned pregnancies, and promoting healthy sexual choices in general, is often obscured. That divide starts at a young age. Public health campaigns to discourage unplanned teen pregnancy often focus exclusively on shaming young girls’ sexuality (although one recent campaign in Chicago is making the rare move to bring boys into the conversation too). Other recent studies have found that doctors tend to talk about birth control options more often with their sexually active female patients than they do with sexually active teen boys. Women are often assigned more of the blame for unhealthy sexual choices than men are, and young girls begin to receive “slut shaming” messages in reference to their sexuality at a young age.