It always seemed safe to assume that the vast majority of men understood -- just as well as women -- how babies are made.
Not so fast, it seems. A new survey has forced us to reconsider what we thought we knew. Apparently, 52 percent of men say they haven’t benefited personally from women having access to affordable birth control. This was a widely reported finding from a recent survey by nonpartisan polling group PerryUndem. Nine percent of the men surveyed weren’t sure if they had benefited, and 3 percent refused to answer the question.
The remaining third, who recognize a personal benefit when they see one, may be just as perplexed by their cohort as many women who saw this report.
Did more than half of men skip a vital part of middle school health class?
Nearly all women have used some kind of contraception at some point, and the majority of women of reproductive age do. About 62 percent of women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization. The birth control pill and female sterilization are the most commonly used methods.
It seems odd to have to connect the dots here, but this is for the 52 percent: If women didn’t have access to birth control, there would be far more unplanned pregnancies. Men would have, at bare minimum, an 18-year-long financial obligation to any child they had fathered. Any man who has relied on a woman’s contraceptive use, ever, to avoid pregnancy has personally benefited from her access to it.
This cause-and-effect relationship seems fairly straightforward. When I asked my husband to explain what the 52 percent may have been thinking, he questioned the survey methodology.
“Did they just survey teenagers?” he asked. (I wondered myself if celibacy rates are higher than anyone ever guessed.)
Nope. The researchers called a representative sample of voters, so the respondents were 18 or older.
The men most likely to say they had benefited from women’s access to birth control were 18 to 44 years old -- perhaps not coincidentally, those in closest proximity to women of childbearing age. Those most likely to deny any benefit were 60 years and older. (Maybe memories have dimmed of activities from more virile years. Helpful hint: Even if it was years ago, you still benefited.)
I wonder how this same demographic of men would respond if they had been asked if women benefited from men having access to Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs. Might they see their sexual health as mutually beneficial to their partners?
The details of this survey revealed a few other interesting perceptions. Research shows 99 percent of women will use birth control in their lifetimes, and married women are more likely to use prescription birth control than unmarried women. But the majority of respondents underestimated birth control usage and believed unmarried and married women used birth control equally.
These perceptions can affect policy, as we’ve seen in the national debate over health care and what should be covered by insurance companies.
The vast majority of women recognize that having access to birth control is an important part of women’s equality and affects a woman’s ability to be financially stable. But the survey also found majorities of men agreeing that access to affordable birth control affects the financial situation of families, impacts stress in relationships and helps the economy.
It was a hypothetical question that was most telling, however. Surveyed voters were asked: If men were the ones who got pregnant and gave birth, would Congress still want to get rid of birth control benefits?
In that case, 68 percent of men said male politicians would keep birth control benefits.
It’s funny how the perception of personal benefit can flip with the perception of personal risk.