Last week I was in a slum in the outskirts of Nairobi to mobilize men for World Vasectomy Day when a local doctor stood up to speak. The group, about 40 strong, listened intently. “Men, I think I speak for everyone when I say, we are not as good at women at enduring pain.To be blunt, if we gave birth, there would never, ever be a second child!” The group clearly related because everyone burst into laughter. I laughed right along.
By chance, later that day I was sent an article about a new hormonal based form of contraception for men, that is electrifying the internet. There were 320 men who participated. It had a 96% success rate (not great, but a big step forward) and 75% of the participants in the study were satisfied. My first reaction was ‘Fantastic’ as there is no doubt that men need and deserve alternatives.
According to the study, which was co-sponsored by the United Nations, they tested a contraceptive shot that works by tricking the body into lowering testosterone levels. A spokesperson for the World Health Organization said:
The study found it is possible to have a hormonal contraceptive for men that reduces the risk of unplanned pregnancies in the partners of men who use it.
In producing WVD, I hear from men worldwide who affirm that vasectomy and condoms, the only two options currently available, just don’t fulfill our needs. Vasectomies are only for men whose families are complete and condoms are less a sound family planning option, and more a requirement for safe sex.
The fact is men have not had anything new on the market for over a century. The oldest condoms we have physical proof of are 600+ years old and the first vasectomy was performed in the 19th century (actually done on a dog in 1823 and the first human by the 1890s). Yes, we’re grateful that the science and reproductive health community have come up with dozens of new products for women over the past half-century, but men have, unfortunately, been left behind.
So really great news about this new product coming down the pipeline!!!!
Except…that night I read further only to discover that the study had been suspended in 2012. Apparently, the side effects were deemed too severe to carry forward. Fair enough, if accurate, but I couldn’t help but think about what the normal resistance men have to participating in family planning; be it condoms or vasectomies. The truth is, as the good doctor said, when it comes to pain, no not even pain, “discomfort,” especially discomfort associated with our “private parts,” we are truly wimps.
Certainly, there are real examples of pain associated with vasectomy, such as the small percentage of men who suffer from long term pain. Understandably upset, and suffering, they tell me that we should stop promoting vasectomy. I listen carefully and try to be kind and respectful, but my answer is always:
The only problem is that if we don’t take the risk (about 1% experience long term pain after a vasectomy), it just means we’re placing the burden for family planning, and its associated ill effects, entirely on the bodies of our women.
Let’s be honest, yes, some men suffer, but nothing compared in numbers to what women risk with the contraception they take. And that’s just preventing a pregnancy. Add to that high maternal mortality rates suffered through birth, and it makes male hesitance feel petty, if not pathetic.
When a woman undergoes a tubal ligation, something that occurs in some countries 100 times more frequently than a vasectomy, she suffers exponentially more pain than a man. And if a tubal ligation fails, it can result in an ectopic pregnancy, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality. If a vasectomy fails? You get a normal healthy baby.
And it’s not just failure to share burden that distinguishes most men from women, it’s fear that a vasectomy will diminish their manhood. Really? I ask them which do they consider more manly, sharing whatever risk there is as an expression of love or putting all of the burden and risk on women? Plain and simple, are you kind of a man who gets out of a sinking boat to try and save your family or do you make your wife take the plunge and hope for the best?
Anyhow, what were the side effects of this potentially new alternative in contraception? They included depression, muscle pain, mood swings, acne and an increase to one’s libido. The first sound bad, but as far as the last one, most men don’t see that as a problem. Indeed, there are pharmaceutical companies that have made their fortunate offering that option to men!
And wait…don’t those side effects sound awfully familiar?
Of course, they are the same ones associated with almost all the drugs on the market, not to mention all of the Family Planning options available to women. The same effects women have endured to protect us from an unplanned pregnancy for years. Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right and if the drugs offered to women are unhealthy for them, they should also be pulled from the market, but the fact is after 50 years it’s been generally accepted that whatever the risk associated with the Pill, the IUD or any of the other choices, it’s safer and more empowering than the alternative.
I can’t comment on the specifics of this particular scientific trial. I’m neither a doctor nor do I have access to the underlying data, but the likelihood is that if men were the ones who got pregnant and we heard word of an alternative contraception, even one that carried some degree of risk, we’d be begging companies to bring it to market.
So yes, mood swings suck, but finding out that one night stand you had you can barely remember, resulted in an unintended pregnancy and brother there is no swing in your moods, except downwards!
I can’t say that in this particular case the men or the group that was overseeing the study caved into men’s lowest common denominator fear of pain, let alone discomfort, but the fact is men are going to have do a little suffering of our own if we’re going to be partners in family planning.
So when I hear stories of men who choose to avoid discomfort or even those who risk any possible pain or diminishment of some degree of pleasure, I don’t judge them for passing the buck, I’ve been there too, but the very least I can do is say thank you for all you take on…always. Thank you!
PS That is why at the essence work so hard to make WVD a reality. It’s not just about getting men to participate, but getting men to do so with more compassion, kindness and care.
Donate to build a sustainable vasectomy outreach program in Kenya! We’re looking for $35,000. Will you help? https://igg.me/at/rrp0V1ZxLSw
Photo: Getty Images