On November 7, 2015 I will have had my current contraceptive implant for exactly two years. I love my implant, to say the least! I got my implant put in after I gave birth to my lovely daughter, who is now 2 years old. What this has meant for me and my partner is that we now live our lives with self-determination and bodily autonomy.
More importantly, I do not take it for granted that I am able to access contraceptives. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 225 million women in developing countries would like to delay or stop childbearing but are not using any method of contraception. Young people are busy planning for brighter futures and not necessarily for families. Contraception provides us with the security and stability to enjoy a satisfying life.
Contraception refers to the prevention of pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse through the use of artificial methods or other techniques. When used correctly and persistently, contraceptive use in developing countries have been shown to decrease the number of maternal deaths and could prevent more than half of all maternal deaths if the full demand for birth control is met.
This is especially the case for young women and girls, a fact supported by data from the Guttmacher Institute which indicates that 35% of pregnancies among 15-19 year olds in Sub-Saharan Africa are either unwanted or mistimed. Addressing this need, by motivating young people to use contraceptives when they become sexually active and improving access to contraceptive information and to contraceptives themselves can help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions among young people.
Awareness vs Knowledge
Contraception is about sex! With recent developments in both old and new media technologies, young people have ready access to information of all kinds, including sexual and reproductive health information. However, high awareness levels should not be confused for detailed knowledge especially when it comes to contraception. The fact remains that, too often, young people do not get even the most basic sexuality education from these sources and misinformation about sex and its consequences remains common.
Myths surrounding certain forms of contraception and weight gain, links to cancer and fertility are very common among my peers. However, research has repeatedly found that sex education which provides accurate, complete, and developmentally appropriate information on human sexuality, including risk-reduction strategies and contraception helps young people take steps to protect their health, including delaying sex, using condoms or contraception, and being monogamous.
Denying information and services to young people does not protect them from harm; rather, it increases the likelihood that when sexual activity does occur, it will be unprotected.
The Role of Young Men and Boys
They have a saying that you cannot buy a sweet and eat it in a wrapper. . . . If you want to show your girlfriend full love, you have to eat her live [have sex without a condom]. – Uganda, 21 year old Male
Gender norms have traditionally assigned the role of childbearing and child-rearing to women. Matters relating to fertility, reproductive health and family planning were also considered to be within this domain. However, challenging these norms and evidence for increased male involvement when it comes to contraception is yielding positive outcomes. A lot of work needs to be done to demystify myths surrounding contraception namely: (i) perceived side effects of female contraceptive methods which disrupt sexual activity, (ii) concerns that women’s use of contraceptives will lead to extramarital sexual relations.
Furthermore, it is not uncommon for young people, especially females, to be coerced into having sex. Men and boys have a vital role to play in preventing sexual coercion and violence. Programs that counteract societal norms about masculinity that perpetuate violence against women, so as to instill a higher standard of sexual responsibility in young men should be encourages. Men of all ages must be educated about responsible sexual behaviour, and be encouraged to treat women as equals and with respect. Lastly, there needs to be cutting edge research that will expand the current limited choices of available male contraceptives.
“After all this time, men are still stuck choosing between two century-old choices: condoms and vasectomies.” – Better Birth Control for Men: 8 Promising Possibilities
From Invisible to Visible
When considering young people, it is important to recognize and address the diversity of needs. These include, but are not limited to, young married couples, sexually and non-sexually active teenagers, young mothers, people with mental and physical disabilities, sexual minorities and domestic workers.
It is also important to acknowledge that programming work and policy development often do not include young people in vulnerable situations, like refugees, street children, poor and uneducated youth who all have rights and varying contraceptive needs that should be comprehensively addressed.
Finally, to ensure we leave no one behind and avoid reinforcing chronic inequalities, we must encourage innovation and development of new methods to expand contraceptive choices for all people. As parents, researchers, policymakers and educators alike, it is in our collective best interests to help meet the needs of young people by ensuring access to contraceptives is widespread, well funded, supported and protected.