Snip-Snip, the Stigma of Vasectomy: That Happened


ColumnIn our society, pregnancy prevention is seen as women’s work. It’s time to talk about the big V: Vasectomy.

If you’re eager to freak out the average American man, suggest he consider getting a vasectomy.

Despite reports that about one out of five men over 35 have had a vasectomy, most men aren’t eager to chat about it.

When my husband was looking into the getting a vasectomy, he learned that a number of his friends had already done it — he had no idea.

As it turns out, most men don’t sit around comparing notes about pregnancy prevention. Which is not just their loss but society’s. How much have we learned from our friends about birth control? Tons. That’s how much.

Fast Facts About Vasectomy

Let’s get this out of the way: No one is cutting anyone’s balls off, and the procedure is not at all the same as castration.

Despite those facts, vasectomies are very often talked about in emasculating terms.

Even a man who has had one might say, “My wife made me,” to avoid any implication that he would voluntarily have his testicles messed with.

A vasectomy is a relatively simple, one-time, 30-minute-ish procedure that, I have heard, is decidedly not pleasant but also not the end of the world.

I can tell you from personal experience that once the swelling goes down, there is no noticeable difference in form or function of said balls or anything, ahem, near the ball area. One out of one of my husbands agrees.

While vasectomies can sometimes be reversed, the procedure is only recommended for people who are certain that they don’t want children. If you are 99 percent sure but want to cover all of your bases, you could consider freezing some sperm.

Who Gets Vasectomies?

In the U.S., vasectomies are mostly performed on white men with money, education and health insurance.

The reasons are complicated and, like women’s reproductive health options, have a lot to do with access and education.

Recently, I spoke with family physician and reproductive health activist Dr. Mandy L. Gittler about the big socioeconomic and racial gap when it comes to vasectomies.

Mandy heads up Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ vasectomy program. There, she sees primarily uninsured patients. “If you are poor and can’t afford to have or don’t want kids, there’s no one at Cook County Hospital [where most Chicago-area people without insurance end up getting health care] doing vasectomies. I have — and will — speak ad nauseum about this problem.”

As a reproductive rights activist and women’s health doctor who took out a life insurance policy when she became a mom, Mandy sees a strong tie between abortion and access to vasectomies.

More vasectomies = fewer abortions, she says. And, isn’t that a goal people on both sides of the debate can agree on?

Additionally, Mandy points out, there is a very clear correlation between violence and unplanned pregnancy. Which is just one more great reason to increase access and talk more about this procedure — which is nearly 100 percent effective in stopping unplanned pregnancies.

We need a “Real Men Get Vasectomies” campaign. We could see if Ryan Gosling has time in his schedule for both feminism and vasectomies, but I think we can do better.

With this week’s awesome reaction (essentially: ”no big”) to Michael Sam’s gay draft day smooch, maybe the NFL can lend us a superstar athlete to inspire men to take charge of their own reproductive choices.

There are lots of great opportunities for catchy hashtags here. I’ll start:

That Happened is Libby Lowe’s weekly column for EcoSalon analyzing media, news and pop culture through a feminist lens. Keep in touch with Libby @LibbyLowe.

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Image: Adapted from Dana Robinson, Creative Commons