Many men have limited knowledge about reproductive health and fertility, but research shows that educating and counseling men through their Reproductive Life Plan may increase men’s fertility awareness and reproductive health.
Looking back at male involvement in family planning
A backwards glance of over 20 years may be a good place to start when assessing men’s engagement in modern family planning and fertility awareness. An article published by WebMD in 1999 raised the question “Why aren’t men more involved?” when it comes to reproductive decisions and family planning. The author reported that “at least one-third of men… surveyed said that [they] feel left out when it comes to birth control and contraception. In fact, more than half the men said they don’t know a lot about contraceptive options, with one in five saying they know little-to-nothing about the subject.”
This article published on CNN.com from May of 1999 highlighted what the “contraceptive choices of the future” would be, notably:
- Vaccines that provide pregnancy protection for one, three or five years.
- A birth control pill that gives women only four menstrual periods a year.
- Contraceptives that deliver hormones through a patch, gel or vaginal ring.
- Intrauterine devices (IUD) that are smaller and can also deliver hormones.
- A male contraceptive. Its effectiveness can be checked privately with a test similar to the home pregnancy test.
With the expectation of these new contraceptive options, as well as the advent of the next generation of IUDs like the Mirena (all marketed exclusively towards women), the fairer sex became the ones consistently viewed as “in control” of contraception and family planning. It’s therefore little wonder that the survey mentioned by the 1999 WebMD article found such a large proportion of men feeling “left out” of the loop with family planning options and decisions! It’s safe to say that these new methods of contraception provided men the opportunity to slowly slip into an apathetic “out of sight, out of mind” mentality (especially as the last “choice of the future,” has yet to come to fruition, even 22 years later), when it came to responsibility for family planning decisions.
The value of reproductive education for men and women
Today, research in men’s reproductive health is on the rise, and different avenues of reaching and educating men about family planning are receiving much-needed attention from those in the health care professions. One method, counseling men through the “Reproductive Life Plan,” may help them become more educated, competent, and confident when it comes to their own fertility awareness and reproductive health.
The Reproductive Life Plan (RLP) is a protocol that aims to encourage both women and men to reflect on their reproductive intentions. The RLP provides the opportunity for important conversations around preconception health and wellness that young, otherwise healthy people may not take the time to consider.
One’s reason and future-thinking is engaged when working through the RLP, which is crucial to adhering to lifestyle modifications and increasing communication regarding fertility awareness. Reproductive Life Plan counseling can happen in a clinic, as well as in community settings, or it can be completed via self-assessment (one could especially imagine the benefits of conducting RLP counseling on high school and college campuses).
Some questions that the RLP uses to initiate conversations around family planning include the following :
From this reflection, men and women can find strategies for successful family planning, and become better informed about how ill-health and poor lifestyle choices may threaten their reproductive plans, especially for the future.
Men and the Reproductive Life Plan
In one study, researchers asked whether RLP counseling could increase men’s awareness of their reproductive health and fertility. Men in Sweden were given written and oral RLP counseling during sexually transmitted infection testing visits over the course of two years. During these clinic visits, men were asked a series of questions related to family planning, and were given a follow-up questionnaire three months after their visit. The study’s conclusions were both hopeful and promising: “Different aspects of men’s fertility awareness were increased through the RLP intervention,” including increased knowledge of lifestyle factors that could impact fertility . There were no improvements in the control group of men who were not given RLP counseling.
From these results, one can conclude that with knowledge comes responsibility and proactivity. When men were given the education and opportunity to reflect on their fertility and family planning goals via RLP counseling, they seemed to internalize their responses and developed a better awareness of themselves or their situation. Among the men in the RLP group, 76% reported having a positive experience through the counseling, and 77% had received new information. Through RLP counseling, these men were given the space and freedom necessary to receive lifestyle modification advice, and their fertility awareness was enhanced.
When men are “in the loop” on family planning decisions, relationship health benefits
One of the hallmarks of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs) is a level of male involvement that is nearly unprecedented when it comes to family planning (given the widespread use and availability of modern methods of female-centered contraception). And time and time again, studies have shown that the use of NFP or FAMs benefits relationships: Couples who use NFP tend to have better communication with one another, and report higher levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction. It’s clear that the more men know about their fertility and are involved in family planning decisions, the better they—and their partners—fare.
Reproductive Life Plan counseling is one way of getting men used to the idea of thinking more intentionally about their fertility, and how parenthood will fit into their goals for the future. Formal discussion of one’s RLP could produce significant, beneficial results in men’s education about fertility awareness, reproductive health, and any related issues that may arise. A commitment to educating men about fertility and family planning reinforces the truth that not only are men active participants in the reproductive life of a couple, but also that they have a vital role to play in fertility awareness and pregnancy-related decisions.
Becoming a parent is one of the most desirable, important moments in a person’s life, yet young people—and perhaps, especially young men—are neither given the education nor the opportunity to consider how their lifestyles and behaviors can impact their future goals to become a father. Giving men the opportunity for education and reflection through interventions like Reproductive Life Plan counseling has the potential to tremendously benefit them—and the women they love.
 Tydén, Tanja, et al. “Using the Reproductive Life Plan in Contraceptive Counselling.” Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 121, no. 4, 2016, pp. 299–303.,
 Bodin, Maja, et al. “Can Reproductive Life Plan-Based Counselling Increase Men’s Fertility Awareness?” Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 123, no. 4, 2018, pp. 255–263.