In the fallout from last year’s overturning of Roe v Wade, the legislation that secured abortion rights in the US, a great many young American men simultaneously did a quite radical thing. They took to social media to intimately document themselves getting a vasectomy, to prove it was a simple and painless act. One was vegan bodybuilder and influencer Brian Turner, who was certain from around the age of 22 that he’d never want children. He acted on his stance, aged 30, and made some genuinely great content in the process. “The reaction was positive,” he tells me. “A few people commented in disbelief, calling me crazy names or saying, ‘You’re no longer a man – you chopped your balls off.’ But they don’t bother me. I have a thick skin.”
It started a global discussion on vasectomies, chiefly around how men can step up and take the burden of contraception away from their female partners forever. Adam, a 35-year-old father of two from Brighton, had the same desire around the same time: “I had a growing guilt about never really fully taking responsibility for contraception. Apart from condoms, all the solutions are for women, and they all seem to have pretty gnarly side effects. It seemed like the decent thing to do, to try to take on the responsibility.” But what of younger British men, who absolutely, definitely don’t want children, who know they want to be what I call “none and done”? For them, although the hurdles are curiously higher and their reasoning more diverse, the same desire to make an informed decision about their body exists.
Britain has never had a big national conversation about the vasectomy, the way America – a place where some states even offered them for free in the wake of the Supreme Court’s historic verdict – clearly has in recent years. “The vasectomy was thought to be illegal here until around the Sixties, and only came on the NHS in the early Seventies,” explains Dr Georgia Grainger, a historian of vasectomy. Before this, the concept of men choosing to sterilise themselves was – in her words – “murky”, owing to many of the key doctors and campaigners evangelising the process also being supporters of eugenics. It was actually the beloved broadcaster Michael Parkinson who, in Grainger’s eyes, did the most to burst bubbles on the subject. “He was open about having a vasectomy back in 1972 when it was still very uncommon. He did an interview about it that was on the front page of the first issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. It definitely brought awareness and also dispelled some myths – that it would affect a man’s masculinity or even cause things like a higher-pitched voice”.
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