Hesperian Health Guides

Men share responsibility for STI prevention

In this chapter:

Ideas about masculinity often make men believe they should have control over how and when they have sex. For some men, this includes having several sexual partners or keeping secrets from their wives or girlfriends. Men may feel it is unmanly to worry about protection from STIs or to take care of their health. They may also be ashamed to admit that they do not fit the male gender role they are expected to play, for example, having sex with other men or preferring to solve problems without using force or violence.

But some men are also actively promoting gender equality, working to prevent violence, and showing how men and women can have healthier sexual relationships. There are examples of these activities in most of the other chapters in this book — see especially Chapter 3: Gender and Health, Chapter 4: Sexuality and Sexual Health, Chapter 6: Ending Gender-based Violence, and Chapter 8: Healthy Pregnancies and Safe Births. Here are some examples of ways men are organizing to prevent STIs, especially HIV.

Men as peer educators and role models

One of the most effective ways to engage men in promoting sexual health is for them to have mentors and to be recognized and admired for their efforts. Many projects all over the world are training men to listen to and talk with other men about what kind of man, husband, and father they want to be.

Men in Tanzania become HIV prevention champions

The CHAMPION Project encourages men in Tanzania to become more involved in family health as a way to prevent the spread of HIV and other STIs. The project promotes a national dialogue about men’s roles, shared decision making in couples, and practicing safer sex.

In politics and public life in Tanzania, men make the decisions. But in many people’s minds, men do not step up to care for their families’ health. The CHAMPION organizers found this was not exactly true. The organizers met with community leaders in many districts around the country. They asked these leaders "which man in your community stands out because of his efforts to promote the health of his family or community?" And there were 2 or 3 men named in almost every village. That may seem like a small number of men, but the CHAMPION Project saw it as a good starting place.

illustration of the below: a man helping a man and woman who seem angry with each other.
illustration of the below: a man with 1 wife.
One man was working to stop family violence and restore peace in households where there was fighting. One man decided to have only 1 wife and remain faithful to her, unlike almost every other man in his village.

The Project held community meetings where these men made presentations about their lives, their motivations, and their efforts to promote better health. After hearing their testimonies, each community chose one of the men as their local champion.

illustration of the below: pictures of the 12 CHAMPION men.

Then, to show everyone there were men like this in Tanzania, the CHAMPION project selected a group of men and created a national campaign about them. The campaign included a photo exhibit to share the stories of 12 of the men. They held a big event in the capital city to get the attention of the whole country. They also put the men’s pictures and their stories into a calendar that was distributed all over Tanzania.

By training men about gender awareness, the Project has drawn both younger and older men into the work of counseling couples, talking with men about preventing HIV and other STIs, and helping other men see how gender roles can harm their health and the health of their families.

Community education where men gather

The best way to involve people in any activity for change is to meet them in activities they are already involved in. Sporting and religious events, workplaces, transit centers, and men’s social gathering spots such as bars, cafes, truck stops, and brothels are good places to offer HIV information to men or engage men in discussions about STIs.

It is also important to take an education project to places where men in the community seek other men to have sex or to inject drugs. If you keep showing up, and if you show the men that you are not judging them, trying to convert them, or turning them over to the police, they will begin to trust you. Giving out free condoms or showing how to sterilize needles can be good ways to start a conversation.

a dance instructor speaking to his students while holding a box of condoms.
Don’t forget to take some condoms before you leave.
BEMFAM, an organization in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, decided to do outreach at a popular samba school where young men from the neighborhood practiced and prepared to dance for Carnival. By training the dance instructors to teach about STI and HIV prevention, along with samba lessons, they were able to reach a large audience.

Opposing gender-based violence

Rape and violent sex harm women in many ways, including the spread of STIs. And then, having an STI makes a woman a target of violence. Many women with HIV have been blamed, beaten, and abandoned by their families. Men who oppose these attitudes and actions play an important role in working to end violence against women.

Men As Partners (MAP)

Some years ago, a group of people in South Africa was very worried about how HIV infection and gender-based violence were both increasing. They also saw how each of these problems made the other worse. Knowing how important it was to engage men directly in reducing both violence and HIV, they started a group called Men As Partners – MAP. One of their goals was to encourage men to become actively involved in violence prevention and to take more responsibility for HIV-related prevention, care, and support. Another goal was to help men look at their attitudes, values, ways of acting, and ideas about masculinity. MAP helps men think about how some gender expectations lead men to harming their own health, as well as the health of their partners and families.

To tackle the complexities of looking at gender roles and changing long-held attitudes and ways of acting, MAP holds educational workshops with groups of men and boys in many settings—schools, workplaces, trade unions, prisons, faith based organizations, community halls, and sporting arenas. The workshops use discussions, role-plays, and other participatory activities to help groups look at violence, sexual relationships, parenting, caregiving, and how gender roles limit choices for both women and men.

a man speaking to a small group of men.
Our survey says that some of us think that if a woman is dressed in a sexy manner, it is her fault if she is raped. Let’s discuss this.

MAP groups also use other activities, including street theater, rallies, murals, and other media to show men working toward more gender equality. They also provide trainings for health care staff to improve STI services for men.

Many organizations all over South Africa have joined together to create a MAP Network. There are now Men As Partners programs in more than 15 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

This page was updated:05 Jan 2024