Making the cut on World Vasectomy Day

Johannesburg newspaper, The Citizen, ran my article to mark World Vasectomy Day, on the day itself. Read the text below, or click here to read it on The Citizen's website.

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When Oscar-nominee and Emmy Award-winner Jonathan Stack had his first thoughts on whether to have his own vasectomy, he couldn't have known where his sterilisation would take him.

Stack's personal experience inspired him to make the film The Vasectomist and become a co-founder of the largest ever male-oriented global family planning event: October 18 is the inaugural World Vasectomy Day and activities are taking place in South Africa as well as 24 other countries around the world.

The aim of World Vasectomy Day is to raise awareness about men's reluctance to get involved in family planning and the impact on both families and the planet of unintended pregnancies and population growth.

Over a thousand men will today have vasectomies and dedicate their procedures to the ideals of the day. Stack explains that the impact of these vasectomies on a single day will be a reduction of "our carbon footprint by 10 million metric tons, that's more than 20 000 people could do in a life time of recycling, reducing and reusing."

Stack was born in 1957, when the global population was around three billion. Since then that number has more than doubled to over seven billion. The effects of this growth terrify him.

Resolving pretty much every social and environmental issue become harder with more people. "We don’t need one billion more people on this planet, we need to take better care of the seven billion we already have," Stack added. He is right, but UN predictions are for the world's population to rise by another billion in the next 12 years alone.

On a global level, an additional billion people will amplify the climate change impact and increase the pressures on biodiversity, among other dangers. A large part of the focus of World Vasectomy Day, however, is on threats much closer to home – those in our own families.

For monogamous couples wanting no further children vasectomy is an obvious choice, particularly given that vasectomy is a quicker, simpler and cheaper procedure with a lower risk of complications and a faster recovery time than female sterilisation.

Despite this, in one South African survey, where men were asked about the methods of contraception they knew could be used to delay or avoid pregnancy, only 42.6% of men even knew of male sterilisation by vasectomy. Education, as is so often the case, is certainly part of the problem.

The need for education about the procedure is not limited to its availability. Vasectomies are also still often viewed in a negative light as a threat to a man's potency and virility, even though the procedure has no impact at all on a man’s sexual performance. The prevailing culture of patriarchy, and the slow pace of implementing women’s rights in South Africa are some of the other factors why South African women are 20 times more likely to be sterilised than South African men.

FADA, at the University of Johannesburg, venue for the African premiere of The Vasectomist

FADA, at the University of Johannesburg, venue for the African premiere of The Vasectomist

The core South African event for World Vasectomy Day will be the African premiere of Stack’s documentary film, The Vasectomist. The film follows controversial Florida urologist Dr Doug Stein on his mission to save the planet by advocating "the gospel of vasectomy". Stein has performed over 30 000 vasectomies, more than anyone else. As Stein travels the world he confronts difficult ethical questions, including lack of interest from men to be involved in family planning and conservative religious groups who believe family planning is akin to genocide. He also upsets liberals who challenge him for bringing family planning to poor countries, particularly when the contentious issue of paying men to undertake the procedure arises.

According to Stack, "for too long people have stopped talking about population on the planet. We’ve got to start dealing with the truth. So on October 18 that conversation is going to begin." If you want to join in, The Vasectomist will be screened at midday today at the FADA Auditorium of the University of Johannesburg's Bunting Road campus. The screening will be followed by an audience debate on the issues raised, is open to the public and admission is free.