What did you get your loved one this year for Valentine’s Day? Flowers, chocolates, a fancy meal? That’s all very sweet! I recently got something that could make a great Valentine’s gift: a vasectomy.
I work for UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. That means I spend all day thinking and talking about sex: the seismic driving force behind all human development. It’s beautiful and fun when you’re in control, but can be devastating—and even deadly—when you’re not, particularly if you’re a woman or girl living in poverty. And after more than a decade in this field, my wife and I have just had our second kid and my work has fused with our reality. It’s clear that two kids are enough for us: We’re out of bedrooms and out of money. Parking is a nightmare in our neighborhood, so we’re not getting a bigger car. And I’m turning 40 this year. So it was time for me to level up as a father: to graduate from being a harried new dad changing diapers at 3 am to the middle-aged lawn-mowing aficionado I’ve always dreamt of being.
So I made an appointment with a urologist, where I first learned what a urologist does—in a large part from the amazing diagrams of prostates and prosthetic penises in the office. This whole field of medical expertise—a kind of gynecologist for men—was not something I had really considered before. He talked me through the procedure, which was so simple that his explanation barely took five minutes.
A month later, at an outpatient clinic nearby, I was sedated and, in a minor surgical procedure lasting about fifteen minutes, my new favorite doctor painlessly removed a short section of each of my vas deferens and sealed their ends. Minutes later, I woke up from a light sleep with an ice pack on my privates, then my wife took me to KFC. I had some slight soreness, similar to what you might feel after hitting a pothole on a racing bike, but by the next day I was feeling good—the only evidence of the procedure was a couple of very discreet stitches down there that dissolved with time .
The whole experience was so great that I’ve become something of an evangelist. Chocolate and champagne have their place, but if you’re done having kids and want to make a real difference in your partner’s life, then how about giving their mind and body a permanent break from the decades-long grind of dealing with contraception, so they can ditch the pills, IUDs, and injections once and for all? It’s simply unfair that the responsibility for birth control in couples so often still falls on women, even though a simple, safe, reliable (and, if necessary, almost always reversible) alternative exists for men. I’m also told insurance companies tend to love it (think of the years of expensive services it prevents!), so it probably won’t cost you much either.
I’ve been surprised from conversations with male friends that it’s an option lots of men seem to be vaguely aware of, but do not consider seriously. A surgery—albeit a very minor one—might be an intimidating prospect for the uninitiated, but the freedoms it are beautiful—a lifetime of certainty and the liberating ability to move on with your lives knowing you’ve at least got control of one life-defining variable.
I am, of course, not suggesting anyone go out and get a surprise vasectomy today, or that the many methods of birth control available for women are undesirable, as they’ve played a huge role in empowering women and helping the world progress—albeit slowly—towards gender equality. I am grateful these options are available and that we live in a society where women’s freedom to use them is normalized and, for the most part, uncontested.
But my decision to take responsibility for our family planning made sense. I discussed it at length with my wife. And it’s also an important step for me in being the man, and proud feminist, I want to be. At this stage of my life positive masculinity is about sharing as much of the burden of parenthood and planning our family with my wife as possible, being curious, empathetic and invested in her experiences, and bringing up a son and a daughter that have equal opportunities and ambitions, and see this equality embodied in their parents sharing the responsibilities of parenthood. And that meant getting a vasectomy.