Ethan* was living in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, when he first visited a Planned Parenthood clinic.
He was seeking a service that he says his physician was reluctant to provide: a comprehensive test for sexually transmitted diseases. "I grew up in a smallish northeast Pennsylvania town," Ethan, 27, told Mic via email. "[My primary care doctor] and his male nurse made a series of homophobic and sexist and widely disparaging remarks about women and, after I came out to him, he pushed back on my need for a full STD panel."
Ethan, who was 19 at the time, says the interaction prompted him to seek alternatives. "I felt pretty awful about my experience with my [primary care physician]," he said, "and since I didn't get the STD panel, I grabbed a friend and went to my local [Planned Parenthood] clinic to get tested. The tests were free and the clinic was welcoming."
Today, Ethan works for a major philanthropic fund that helps raise money for Planned Parenthood. He is also one of a growing number of men — gay, straight, transgender and otherwise — who have used the more than 28 different service categories that the reproductive health provider offers.
But stories like Ethan's often get lost in the shuffle. As the burgeoning movement to demonize and defund Planned Parenthood gains momentum at the highest levels of right-wing politics, the conversation tends to revolve around the regulation of women's bodies, specifically in two areas: birth control access and abortion services.
The latter is especially volatile. Most of the 2016 Republican presidential candidates have come out as staunchly anti-abortion access, and Republicans in the House of Representatives have frequently insisted that defunding Planned Parenthood be included in any stopgap spending bill submitted to Congress. Yet as the fight over who gets to control women's reproductive health — male legislators or, you know, women themselves — rages on, one point gets conveniently glossed over: Planned Parenthood provides services that all kinds of people benefit from, not just women.
To be sure, women's health services are arguably its most vital and necessary component. But more than 5.1 million people use Planned Parenthood's sexual and reproductive health and education services each year, and from 2003 and 2012, the number of men using them grew by a staggering 99%.
Even when they are not the immediate beneficiaries of Planned Parenthood, men often are by direct association. Jonny is a 25-year-old file clerk for a financial firm in Burbank, California, whose most recent visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic was in response to prohibitively high contraception costs at the time. "I went a year ago because, for me, condoms were getting really expensive," he told Mic. "[The people at Planned Parenthood] bagged some up really nicely for us."
The two times before that, he went to support his girlfriend as she explored new contraception options, and for a pregnancy test once when she missed her period. "I offered to come with her, and she was kind of iffy at first," Jonny said. "But afterwards she was so glad I actually came, because it helped ease the nervousness of the whole situation. The people there laid everything out really clearly for us. I think it was really cool that they explained and offered other birth control options too."
Sometimes, for some people, Planned Parenthood has been just that — a one-stop shop for the kind of reproductive health education so often missing from America's schools. "Beyond performing the necessary testing, procedures [et cetera], they do what any good medical practitioners would do: They educate and explain," Chris, a 25-year-old visual artist from Kansas City, Missouri, told Mic via email. "Besides the testing, they spent time to explain some facts to me that frankly I should've learned in health class in high school."
Other times, clinics have functioned as discreet and affordable resources for young people who see few other options. Blair, a 30-year-old touring musician and swimming pool repairman, recalls visiting a clinic with his then-girlfriend in Las Vegas in 2002 to get the morning-after pill. "This was entirely my girlfriend's decision," Blair said via email. "I'm pretty sure it was our most convenient and affordable option while maintaining anonymity. Keeping our sexual activity secret was key.
"It was really easy," he added. "We split the cost."
In some cases, Planned Parenthood has spelled salvation for people in truly dire straits. Patrick, 29, works for the city of Atlanta. Six years ago, when he was 23, he was facing multiple felony charges which, cumulatively, carried a potential 10-year prison sentence. "My [then-]girlfriend's family hated me," Patrick told Mic. "Like, one of the worst things she could have done [in their eyes] was get caught spending time with me."
Due to a miscommunication around whether she was taking her birth control pills, Patrick's girlfriend became pregnant. The couple found themselves at a crossroads. "I refused to be a deadbeat dad," Patrick said. "I had recently lost [contact with] my own family over my actions having to do with drugs and shit, and I couldn't let someone else choose that kind of life with me over her family, giving up her livelihood — especially if I was facing 10 years."
They discussed adoption, but eventually settled on terminating the pregnancy. Patrick drove his girlfriend to a clinic in Savannah, Georgia, in 2009, smoking cigarettes most of the way. "Planned Parenthood was just the most sound logistical compromise," he said. "It was very private, hush-hush... and it turned out OK."
Abortion services are just 3% of what Planned Parenthood offers. But people like Patrick will tell you that it is a vital 3% — despite the repeated efforts by some legislators to eliminate it as an option. "I didn't end up getting the 10 years," he told Mic, "but if I had, I could've been raising a kid too."
A notable pattern persists across the men whom Mic interviewed for this piece: All were critical of efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. While he recognized that most people go to Planned Parenthood seeking preventive care, like a mammogram or STD screening, Chris concluded that "every woman (and man in many cases) deserves accessible reproductive and preventative care no matter the circumstance, and has an inalienable right to this care as a citizen of [this] country."
"It's terrifying," Ethan told Mic. "When I lived in Miami, [Florida,] my roommate was uninsured and the only place she could could go for affordable reproductive health services was [Planned Parenthood] ... For the queer community, especially for vulnerable queer youth, women and low-income communities, I see PP as an organization that provides the most critical access point to connect to sexual and reproductive health services.
"Growing up, I don't know what I would have done without a PP in my community," he added. Ethan is not alone. The question is, will legislators listen?
*Some names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.
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