The Age of Aquarius
It really seems like the moon is in seventh house, and that Jupiter is aligned with Mars. Why? Because our government gets it and want to know how it can help.
Last week, I spoke at a stakeholder meeting about men’s reproductive health, held at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. You may have heard of the CDC, begun in 1946, as the American government’s disease surveillance unit. Answering to the executive branch of the government and not to Congress, the CDC has a storied history over the past 60 years, being integral to the worldwide eradication of smallpox and to the control of measles and rubella and more recently, HIV. And who can forget the role that the CDC played in identifying the cause of Legionnaires disease, toxic shock syndrome and SARS? Well now they are interested in men’s reproductive health. You gotta believe.
What’s wrong with men’s reproductive health care in the U.S.? Well, in a sense, it doesn’t exist. Most men who are infertile do not get the care that they should; most male sexual health issues are verboten topics for public discourse; and men’s roles in family life and contraceptive planning are paltry at best.
It warms my heart to know that among all the government branches that could have taken men’s reproductive health seriously, the CDC has picked up the ball. After all, they are interested in assessing populations at-risk and controlling epidemics. And that is exactly the kind of thinking that will improve men’s reproductive health in the U.S., a condition that could certainly be termed an epidemic. A couple of years ago, I wrote an NIH grant (that was funded no less!) to help train male reproductive specialists at UCSF that began with the following sentence: “Men’s reproductive health is a large and underserved area of medicine in the U.S.” Amen.
This first-of-its-kind meeting was brimming with excitement. Attended by non-profits, academics, urologist thought leaders and numerous federal agencies, it was clear that the time had come to rethink the way we take care of young men. The definition of men’s reproductive health that guided the discussion was “the ability to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life and the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.” In this context, awareness, public health, barriers to care, messaging, resources, engagement, and communication were terms addressed as if this topic were a true, national epidemic. In the words of Wallace Stevens: “Thought is an infection. In the case of certain thoughts, it becomes an epidemic.” For the good of a large chunk of our population, let’s hope that this issue goes viral.