Women Modify Behavior When Trying to Get Pregnant. A New Study Says Men Should Too.

What Women Really Think
Dec. 3 2013 11:29 AM

Hooray for This New Study That Says Women Shouldn't Be the Only Ones Responsible for Making Healthy Babies    

male_reproductive_health
Hahaha, but maybe not really.

Photo by Sergey Peterman/Shutterstock

“Men and women contribute equally to reproduction.” That’s a statement in a new paper in the journal Gender and Society about how men’s role in making babies has been culturally diminished. It is a painfully obvious sentence, and yet it bears repeating because we’re so fixated on women’s prenatal and preconception behavior and health. For example, the most emailed article on the New York Times website as I type is about how women’s eating habits affect their babies in the womb. But we barely ever mention how male behavior can affect sperm quality.

The paper, called “More and Less Than Equal: How Men Factor in the Reproductive Equation,” notes that since 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people of both genders who are looking to have a baby monitor their health more closely—but in practice, this recommendation is generally directed toward women, who are now advised to treat their pregnancies as 12 months long. This means curtailing alcohol consumption and taking prenatal vitamins before they’ve even conceived.

Advertisement

Yet recent research has shown that men’s preconception behavior also matters. According to the CDC, tobacco and heavy drinking can damage sperm DNA, and we’re just starting to understand how older men’s sperm may affect their offspring adversely. The only venue where male preconception health gets much attention, the authors point out, is at the sperm bank, where men’s sperm is scrutinized in a way it’s not elsewhere.

The study’s authors, Yale’s Rene Almeling and Princeton’s Miranda Waggoner, argue that the hyperfocus on women’s bodies before and during reproduction has led to a dearth of research about men’s contributions to conception. So there should be more research about men’s preconception behaviors, but on a more individual level, doctors should also be asking their male patients if they are planning on having children, just the way that women are asked at their yearly gynecological visits. On the policy level, Almeling and Waggoner suggest that the Affordable Care Act might cover men’s preconception visits, as all women’s preconception visits are now covered without copay. 

There’s a lot we don’t know about the epigenetics of both men and women, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we burden men with the obsessive focus on behavior modification that we’ve unfortunately put on pregnant women. (Are you really going to have that second cup of coffee and risk destroying your baby, you evil harpy?) But I’m all for men bearing at least a little bit of responsibility when it comes to their baby-making, since the current model puts everything on women. I think most men could handle it, and they might even welcome the advice. After all, dads want healthy babies, too.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 8:27 AM Only Science Fiction Can Save Us! What sci-fi gets wrong about income inequality.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.