I once found myself sitting in a room with five young men, all of whom were clueless as to what a prostate was, the nature of prostate exams and at what age they are recommended, and whether or not women have one, too. PAP smears were also a complete mystery to them. I should point out that these young men are not just the average Joe sitting on the Subway in Brooklyn, but aspiring lawyers, doctors, and businessmen sitting in a conference room of the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. It is deeply troublesome that even young men of this caliber would be so uninformed. How can we explain this?
It might be partially due to the completely biased way in which biology works. Men can get by with being almost totally aloof about their own sexual organs. Women, however, are not only forced by anatomy and design to think about their uterus once a month, but also must schedule annual checkups to safeguard against a virus (HPV, which can cause cancer) which they are infected with mostly by men. Not only that, but there also exists a social construction in which it is expected of women to be more proactive when it comes to health. A man who voices feelings of dizziness, unexplained fatigue, and pain in the pelvic area will probably elicit a response along the lines of “Geez, that sucks, Jim. Be a man and suck it up, it’ll go away eventually.” But if a woman does the same, her friend will likely urge her to seek medical assistance and take responsibility for her sexual health. This double standard holds no scientific bearing. Men and women are equally prone to illness and should be held equally accountable for taking care of themselves.
Furthermore, of all of the contraceptive methods out there, the conventional condom is the only one which addresses the male responsibility in sex. Every single one of the other methods (diaphragms, rings, spermicides, and so on) are imposed on women as things they should be concerned with. And while some of this is biological necessity- women are more, shall we say, “open” to artificial intervention than men are- the reason a pill for men to take does not exist is not because it is not possible to stop the formation of a few million sperm, but because men traditionally do not and arguably will not assume responsibility for contraception.
We no longer live in a society in which sex is unmentionable. If nothing else, we owe it to ourselves to be informed on matters of sexual health and to friends and lovers to correct their misconceptions. The consequences of unsafe sex stay with you for the duration of your life and in some cases could kill you. Is that really something to stay quiet about out of fear of awkwardness? No. We must speak out. Friend to friend and lover to lover, we must turn to professionals, spread the truth about sex and contraception, and do away with the thousands of misconceptions that continue to exist because of the privacy deemed necessary to the subject of sex. I use the word “we” to the fullest extent of its meaning: everyone must get involved, including men. Sex and contraception are not women’s issues. Regardless of who we are and the paths our individual lives may take, all people should regard caring for their own sexual health as well as the sexual health of those close to them as a personal responsibility.