Editor's note: Some of the sources for this article requested their full names and locations not be used.
When abortion opponents are elected to office, what happens next is predictable: Birth control becomes a hot commodity. For instance, research published in JAMA Internal Medicine found U.S. demand for birth control shot up 22 percent shortly after Donald Trump's presidential election in 2016.
In the wake of the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft signaling the potential imminent fall of Roe v. Wade, the same trends have already appeared. But even during peak anxiety about birth control access, there's one form of it that usually doesn't see the same popularity surge. This is a shame, because it's cheaper, has a far lower failure rate and takes a lesser toll on the body than hormonal contraceptives.
Why aren't vasectomies deployed more often in the endless war for reproductive rights?
This question has been on my mind ever since I met Silvio on a dating app recently. He "liked" my bikini shot, and I liked his politics. We sailed past the small talk and switched over to text, trading details from our daily lives. One day, as he was leaving a baby shower, he was inspired to share that he'd never be needing one, because he'd just gotten a vasectomy.
I couldn't help but be surprised. Cleveland Clinic estimates that only 5 percent of married men have had a vasectomy, while 500,000 men overall undergo the procedure every year in the United States. A 2018 data analysis pegged the mean age of men who underwent vasectomies at about 37. As a single guy in his late 20s, Silvio was an atypical vasectomy seeker.
But his timing was especially uncanny. He had the procedure about a week before the high court's draft opinion was leaked in early May 2022. The possibility of reduced access to abortion hadn't necessarily motivated Silvio's decision, but it's already being reflected in his sex life.
"I've been seeing two people casually, and when I mentioned my vasectomy, I got a great reaction from both of them," Silvio said.
Single men seem to be catching on. These days, as I swipe through Bumble bios, I'm seeing them starting to list their vasectomies outright, alongside other attributes like height and hobbies. There's even a distracted girlfriend meme about this, joking that women in states that stand to lose abortion rights will now prefer men who have had a vasectomy.
Silvio's vasectomy may have surprised me, but definitely in a pleasant way. Right now, I don't use hormonal birth control, which makes me anxious about dating people who can get me pregnant. Silvio's decision, and his openness about it, makes me hopeful our culture is evolving toward seeing pregnancy prevention as everyone's responsibility, not just a duty for half of us.
But is this wishful thinking or is something truly shifting?
The politics of birth control have been stuck at a gendered status quo for seemingly all of the last 60 years. Ever since the release of the pill, birth control has been portrayed by both supporters and opponents as a "female issue," with liberals championing women's bodily autonomy and conservatives panicking at the thought of promiscuous (and breadwinning) women. This framing bolsters the widespread belief that people who can get pregnant should bear the full responsibility for preventing it, too.
Thankfully, this may be slowly shifting. Los Angeles urologist Justin Houman, who performs about 150 to 200 vasectomies each year, says that "many" of his patients cite their partner’s dissatisfaction with hormonal birth control options as a reason for pursuing the vasectomy. Oftentimes, these men are already fathers, which can also heighten their sense of responsibility.
"They feel like their partner sacrificed during the child-birthing process, so some men feel that this is their sacrifice in the relationship, and the least they can do," Houman.
A perspective like this could also help explain why vasectomy rates have plummeted in recent decades, even as abortion restrictions have proliferated. This discouraging statistic comes from a Stanford University study which found vasectomy rates for men ages 18 to 45 declined consistently between 2002 and 2017. The study noted that vasectomy use is significantly associated with men who are white and have a higher household income and higher education level. This implies it's likely that far more than 5 percent of married men would get a vasectomy if they could.
But how many vasectomy seekers would skip the snip entirely if they had a truly reversible alternative? While many urologists perform vasectomy reversals, the results can vary wildly depending on a host of personal factors. A vasectomy is still considered a permanent procedure, and condoms, single-use and prone to failure, aren't an ideal fallback.
This is why more research and development of long-acting yet reversible methods of "male birth control" are so badly needed, even in the face of potential systemic obstacles such as funding and social norms.
But there are hopeful signs that more contraceptive methods for people with testes are coming, such as the human trials underway for a twice-a-day pill and a topical gel. These products would be game changers, potentially shifting the whole culture of sex and dating. But we can't just wait for that promising future—we must act.
As the sun may be setting on Roe v. Wade, the United States may be at the beginning of its greatest civil rights rollback in decades. At this point, the battle in the repro rights arena is getting bleak enough that even cisgender men are stepping into the ring.
In mid-May, the hashtag #MenAtTheMarch took off online, weaving a tapestry of snapshots from pro-choice protests across the country that seemed to include more men than usual. Other guys are offering to split the bill for the pill or pass satirical bills in government, such as Pennsylvania state Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, who announced his intention late in 2021 to require certain men to have vasectomies.
The trend clearly indicates that the ranks of men interested in birth control equity are growing. It's very encouraging, and if that energy can be sustained and channeled into direct action, then the fight for reproductive rights can only grow stronger. If vasectomies become destigmatized along the way, even better.