As a man I can't fully understand what it is like to spend decades taking daily hormonal birth control pills, receive monthly contraceptive injections, or suffer the painful cramps that accompany an intrauterine device. My guess is, it's not great. There are many ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies, but it's usually women who bare the family planning burden.
On World Vasectomy Day, 18 October 2013, events around the globe are being organised to raise awareness and to encourage men to step up to the plate to take responsibility for planning their family's future.
For monogamous couples who want no more children, vasectomy might seem like the obvious choice. But unfortunately it's not the choice which is often taken in practice. Statistics on the type of contraception relied on by sexually active South African women show that 10.1% have chosen female sterilisation, known as tubal ligation, but only 0.5% rely on male sterilisation by vasectomy.
Tubal ligation is a far more invasive procedure and comes with a higher risk of complications and a longer recovery period. Tubal ligation requires opening the women's abdominal cavity whereas the "No-scalpel vasectomy", for instance, does not even need stitches.
Writer and South African poet, Rustum Kozain, summed up the issue when talking to me about his own vasectomy: "There's no need to explain a man's anxiety about having sharp instruments close to [his] penis and testicles. But [my] anxiety was unnecessary. The procedure was quick and I felt less than a pinprick when the incisions were made". Part of the motivation behind World Vasectomy Day is to educate men about what a minor procedure vasectomy is, particularly when compared to tubal ligation.
On World Vasectomy Day, doctors in 25 countries will perform around 1 000 vasectomies. In Australia, vasectomies will take place in front of a live studio audience and be streamed online to highlight the simplicity and speed of the procedure. Public debates, talks and other events are taking place on every continent.
In South Africa the events will focus on the South African premiere of a new film by Oscar nominated and multiple Emmy award winning film maker, Jonathan Stack. The screening will be held at the University of Johannesburg’s FADA auditorium.
"The Vasectomist" is a documentary following American urologist, Dr. Doug Stein, as he travels the world carrying out vasectomies. Doug performed over 5,000 vasectomies in three countries during the making of the documentary.
Unwanted pregnancy and the global population
Today the global population is approaching 7.2 billion. UN projections are for this to rise to 9.6 billion by 2050. In these numbers lies an important component of Doug's motivation "Could this planet support more than 8 billion people? Sure it could. Could it support 12 billion people? Probably [it] could. But it can't really support 12 billion people as well as biodiversity. I think vasectomy is win, win, win for the people, for the societies, for nature" he explained. But the figures highlight the numerical absurdity of Doug's mission. Doug has performed more vasectomies than anyone else, but during the period of making the film the world's population rose by 300 million. What is really needed is a mindset change by men.
Elements of The Vasectomist are controversial, notably when Doug undertakes vasectomies in poor communities in Haiti and the Philippines but the film is a vehicle to raise important issues. Following the premiere of The Vasectomist, an audience and panel debate will look at the issues raised from a local perspective. Family planning options, the environmental impacts of population growth, South Africa's unique cultures and high HIV prevalence are all likely to come up. Talking about population issues still makes many people uncomfortable. So one aim of World Vasectomy Day is to highlight that it should never be a taboo to talk openly about medical choices, especially when today's choices prejudice women's health.
With so few men taking responsibility for family planning, the intent of World Vasectomy Day is to open a debate.