"Most men get their sex education in locker rooms or on street corners," said Gary Simpson from behind his desk at the Washington headquarters of Planned Parenthood. "And they get a lot of misinformation that way."
As director of Planned Parenthood's new Men's Center, Simpson is trying to dispel myths he claims have contributed to the city's high rate of venereal disease and teen-age pregnancy. Through the new program, Simpson hopes to educate, counsel and provide medical treatment for men.
Men's Center recently opened at 1108 16th St. NW, funded by a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Walkin services, where men can receive free contraceptives and counseling, physical exams and treatment for venereal disease, under the direction of a physician, are avaiable from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Mondays.
By next month, he hopes to open a second center at the Planned Parenthood office, 1811 Alabama Ave. SE.
The Men's Center, one of a handful, of programs in the country designed to involve men in family planning, is the first of its kind in this area, said Simpson.
"A lot of men think family planning isn't for them, it's for women," said Simpson, who recently served on a task force for National Condom Week, lecturing on contraception and distribution 1,000 condoms to high school and college students in the city.
"But we guys really need to catch up. Men have never been encouraged to get involved in family planning, and we're trying to make men feel welcome and comfortable in rapping about sexuality.
"We want to get guys in touch with their bodies and dispel the macho image that a man who goes to a doctor is a sissy. For example, men don't know how sperm is produced, and a lot of men think having a vasectomy is the same as being castrated."
Nearly a fourth of the births in the District last year were to teen-age girls, said Simpson, and almost 100 of those bieths were to girls aged 14 and under. Many of these pregnancies happen, he said, "because kids don't know how their bodies work."
Simpson has a master's degree in counseling from the University of the District of Columbia and grew up in Northeast Washington. He said his knowledge of the city is an advantage in outreach work in Anacostia, Cardozo and other areas where there are high rates of teen-age pregnancies.
Although Simpson encourages men to learn about female birth control, he advocates the use of condoms by men because it forces them to be directly involved in contraceptive decision-making.
"The condom is the safest, surest and most readily available aid in preventing both VD and pregnancy," said Simpson, who hopes to distribute 10,000 condoms to area men by the end of August. "D.C. has the fourth highest incidence of gonorrhea in the nation. We want to get guys to come in for a physical exam, for VD treatment and to get condoms."
As part of the educational program at the Men's Center, Simpson leads discussions of male sexuality at high schools and colleges.
"I always pass out index cards and ask men to write down the one question they've always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask," he said. "The whole subject is to get guys relaxed and let them know the way they feel is normal." CAPTION: Picture, Gary Simpson, director of the Planned Parenthood Men's Center By Craig Herndon-The Washington Post