However, in most relationships, women, especially young women, in South Africa bear the burden of contraception.
“Men still tend to leave it up to women to initiate the use of contraceptives to prevent unplanned pregnancies,” says Denise Hunt, Country Director at Marie Stopes.
“This means women, who may be met with resistance or just plain apathy from partners, and who know that not using contraception or contraceptive failure have far greater personal consequences are being the initiators. While we encourage male partners to become more involved, it is empowering for a woman to take control of her fertility and her overall sexual health. You could say that the burden of contraception on women is also liberating in a way. This means women can take contraceptive decisions into their own hands.”
New research from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on access to family planning across the world showed that two thirds (60%) of South African women aged between 16 and 49 used modern contraceptives. This rate is much higher than the sub-Saharan average of 20% and quite close to the global average of 57%.
Hunt says there is no doubt that the improving rate of contraceptive use is mostly thanks to the ladies.
“A lot of men still consider family planning to be the woman’s responsibility,” she says.
Studies also suggest that it is a lack of knowledge that stops men from using contraception, while in some situations cultural or religious beliefs as well as myths about side effects also play a role. In some cases women are forced to secretly use contraception because their partners won’t cooperate.”
Thato Mokhethi, a professional nurse and centre manager at the Marie Stopes Cape Town says men need to be engaged in family planning from the start, and realise preventing an unwanted pregnancy is as much their responsibility as it is their partners.
“When in a relationship, both people ideally should openly discuss contraception, and make decisions around family planning and safe sex together,” she says.
“Although short term contraceptive methods are still more common, longer term methods such as the IUCD or ‘loop’ are also becoming more popular. The highly effective contraceptive implant, soon to be launched in South Africa will provide women and couples with even more choice.
“Contraception must be accessible, affordable and comfortable for couples to use, particularly in light of many men’s unwillingness. Because of all the ‘set it and forget it’ options available now, it doesn’t have to be burdensome,” concludes Hunt.