A 10-minute procedure, 99% success rate, and about two days of recovery — that’s how quick and effective a vasectomy is at preventing pregnancy. So why are some men, specifically Black men, turned off by the idea of getting snipped?
The misinformation and stigma plaguing Black men often contribute to the idea that getting a vasectomy will affect their manhood and change the physicality of their penises. The truth is vasectomies are the second-most effective type of birth control after abstinence.
The surgical procedure stops sperm from leaving the body and closes off the ends of the vas deferens, the tubes that carry sperm. As a result, the sperm no longer mixes with semen, and it’s reabsorbed into the body.
With 500,000 men getting vasectomies every year in the United States and the recent overturn of Roe V. Wade, more men are turning to this safe form of birth control. But, studies show Black men are the least likely to get a vasectomy.
Justin Harlow, a general dentist in Charlotte, North Carolina, was determined to put his fear aside and educate himself on the procedure. But, it didn’t happen overnight.
“I am the classic cliché. I don’t know if it’s a Black man thing or a man thing, in your mind, there’s this whole stigma around vasectomies,” he says. Are they “taking a whole left nut from you? All these weirdo crazy theories that are totally unfounded.”
As a father of three children, ages 6, 4, and 2, Harlow, alongside his wife, decided they did not want to have any more children. There are an array of birth control options for women — like a birth control shot, IUD, and pill — but many of the options have adverse side effects like weight gain, mood changes, and decreased sex drive.
A common form of permanent sterilization for women is tubal ligation, where a doctor cuts, ties, or blocks the fallopian tubes to prevent pregnancy. But, if you are not already a parent, many doctors will not perform the procedure, and it is a more intrusive procedure than a vasectomy.
“Do I send Kiara in for some major surgery, and she’s already had three babies? And I just started looking at it as like a selfish thing,” Harlow says. “It’s very selfish when you think about it.”
After talking to his friends, who are a group of Black men, a few of whom already had a vasectomy, he says little by little, he became more comfortable and booked a consultation with a urologist.
In August 2021, Harlow had a vasectomy.
Since the procedure, he has had zero complications and now advocates to other Black men that the procedure is worth it.
“We were raised to be these prideful guys … that it’s unmasculine, that no one should be messing with your manhood,” he says. “This was, for me, as a Black man married to a Black woman, just a way to support my wife. I could argue this is a very masculine thing to do.”
According to a survey of 25,000 men between 2002-2017, only 1,000 men got a vasectomy, and Black men had the lowest numbers overall.
Dr. Meera Shah, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic in New York, has been performing vasectomies for the last two and a half years. She says with the recent abortion ban, she has seen an influx of men of color seeking vasectomies.
Shah says one thing people often get wrong about vasectomies is that they think they are 100% reversible. There are some surgeons who can perform reversals, but Shah says it is not guaranteed, and people need to know a vasectomy is a permanent form of sterilization.
“If you are going into a vasectomy thinking you can reverse it, you are probably not a candidate for vasectomies,” she says.
For Shah, the men who come into Planned Parenthood for vasectomies either already have children or know they never want to have children. Providers there take a sliding scale for the procedure and accept all forms of insurance, making a vasectomy affordable and accessible to men who want it.
In a survey of 25,000 men, most men got a vasectomy between the ages of 36 to 45, with men aged 18-35 least likely to get the procedure, according to a 15-year study.
Another common misconception about the procedure is that men will no longer be able to ejaculate, but Shah says sperm makes up less than 5% of volume, and the procedure has no change in how much or how often a man can ejaculate. Hormones are also not affected by a vasectomy. On the contrary, Shah says libido can increase since there is no fear of getting your partner pregnant.
Harlow knows about these misconceptions all too well.
Prior to his vasectomy, he remembers hearing men say getting the procedure changes your hormones — leaving men with less testosterone or physically impairing the testicles. Or that it accelerates erectile dysfunction.
But, Harlow dispels those myths.
“The sexual freedom of it all is great. I think the sex is better, to be honest,” he says. “I’d argue there are better orgasms because of that.”
Benefits of a Vasectomy
For Harlow, the benefits have outweighed any previous stigma or fear he had. Family planning for three young children while taking into consideration his wife’s pregnancies and post-partum breastfeeding, he says getting a vasectomy was an easy way to plan ahead.
Speaking of sexual freedom, he says he no longer has to think about “pulling out,” a common birth control method.
“You’re not risking anything anymore,” Harlow says of his vasectomy. “It was safe, it was effective, and it has allowed us to just move on with our lives. And so, I encourage it for any man.”
Not knowing where and who to ask questions about a vasectomy can be isolating — on top of experiencing stigma and sharing in stereotypical misperceptions. Harlow says he initially didn’t realize how many Black men in his network had vasectomies because many of them were silent about it.
But, he frequently tells men they are not alone. It’s important for other Black men to recognize there is support out there, and it’s not taboo to get this procedure.
“Your penis doesn’t get smaller, you don’t stop ejaculating, you still get an erection, your cum still looks the same.”
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