I must admit that when the Today's Parent editorial team sent me a press release about World Vasectomy Day a few weeks ago, I was intending to have some fun with the idea.
After all, the release stated that on Friday, November 7, organizers would stage a "vasectomy-athon"—performing thousands of procedures and streaming some of them live on the Internet.
For starters, the very idea that hundreds of men would line up for anything other than the latest iPhone is laughable. And if you were a man wrestling with the idea of having this procedure done, would you be coaxed into it by an assembly-line format? The notion of doctors churning out vasectomies like it's a sausage factory (pun intended) would not appeal to me. Would these be taking place in a high school gym or at a community centre? Maybe the sign outside would read, "Thursday: Seniors Pancake Breakfast. Friday: World Vasectomy Day."
And considering that most men are too embarrassed to get a chair massage in the middle of the mall, I figured that no man in his right mind would ever agree to have this procedure live-streamed on the Internet.
But before I wrote a hilarious blog about this event, I figured I should reach out to the organizer to get a better sense of the story. And so on Wednesday morning I connected with Jonathan Stack, an American documentary filmmaker and co-creator of World Vasectomy Day.
I spoke to Stack, who was on his way to the headquarters for this year's event in Kissimmee, Florida. We weren't even two minutes into our discussion when Stack cut me off to say, "Wow, we just passed a billboard on the highway that had World Vasectomy Day—November 7th on it. That's pretty cool when you have an idea in your head and then you see it on a billboard."
The idea for this came to Stack a few years ago, when he was wrestling with the notion of having the procedure done for himself. He says it took him about three years to finally concede that having a vasectomy was the right choice for him and his family. During the course of this journey, he figured it would make a great topic for a documentary. And along the way, he connected with Dr. Doug Stein, a urologist who has performed more than 30,000 vasectomies. The two hatched the idea for a World Vasectomy Day to help promote the idea of family planning and the need for men to become a serious part of that conversation.
Read more: Making the decision to get a vasectomy>
They decided to offer free and low-cost vasectomies in a public format for the inaugural event last year, because they felt like that would be an attention-grabbing method that could help spark a conversation.
"Of course 99.9 percent of vasectomies are done in private and that's what we advocate. We don't believe in having these done in the public or town square," Stack says with a chuckle. "But the whole point of this is to provoke dialogue. So you need to do something that pushes the boundaries. Look, with the live-streaming, we are not zooming in on their private parts or anything. We are doing this to de-mystify the procedure. It's a simple, 10-minute procedure when it's done in the hands of a master surgeon."
When Stack said those words to me, it suddenly clicked as to why they were starting this endeavour. Most men are scared about the idea of having a vasectomy because we are worried it's painful and uncomfortable. We are fearful that we will be "less of a man" after the procedure—maybe walking around with one of those lampshade cones over our necks like a dog after a trip to the vet.
But what Stack and Stein are trying to do is show men that it's a simple procedure. Yes, there is some pain and discomfort, but when you measure it against what your partner went through during the childbirth process, this is almost like donating blood.
"There are a lot of reasons why you shouldn't get a vasectomy. But none of them should be about fear," Stack added.
Read more: Male contraception... coming soon?>
On the first World Vasectomy Day last fall, more than 100 physicians in 25 countries performed about 1,000 procedures. The live-streaming of the procedures took place in the Royal Institution in Australia. This year, they have more than 400 doctors on board in 32 countries and are hopeful that the numbers will continue to grow. In India, they have declared it Vasectomy Week and are promoting it with messages on the bottom of the ticker on public TV.
"If we can inspire anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 men, who otherwise wouldn't have considered this, that really means something," says Stack.
The group is hoping to shift the onus from women to men when it comes to family planning. Most men are still resistant to the idea of having a vasectomy, even though it does not require general anaesthesia or a hospital stay. Studies have shown that despite costing about one-fifth as much as tubal ligation, vasectomies are performed at less than half the rate of tubal ligation. And worldwide, less than three percent of married women aged 15 to 49 rely on their partner's vasectomy for contraception.
"For a lot of men, this is the most positive thing they will do for their wives or partners," says Stack.
And if that isn't a good enough reason for men to consider the procedure, Stack and Stein want them to know about the global impact of vasectomies. A 2008 study from Oregon State University estimated that each child born in the United States adds about 9,000 metric tons to each parent's carbon footprint—or 28 times the savings of a lifetime of recycling. In other words, unplanned pregnancies create more emissions and leave a bigger carbon footprint on the planet.
The group once again did a live-stream of the vasectomies on their website, on Friday, November 7. But Stack is quick to point out that the number of men who participated in the mass vasectomies last month won't be the main measuring stick for the group.
"We don't measure our success by how many vasectomies we do. We measure it by how many conversations we start."
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