By Billy Kilgore
The night before my vasectomy I sat on the couch with my wife and discussed the procedure as if it would be a valiant sacrifice. I expected her to offer sympathy as I mentioned the nurse who warned “it will feel like two bee stings.”
Instead of words of support, she rolled her eyes.
“This is the first contribution you’ve made to birth control,” she said.
I stared at her with a confused expression, letting her words sink in as she scrolled through a menu on the television.
I wish I could tell you I’ve shared the responsibility of birth control, but that would be a lie. Pills, injections, implants—these are what my wife has endured. She has managed side effects, insurance, and doctor appointments, while I’ve done little to nothing. It only took me forty years to realize this is unacceptable.
The next morning at the urology clinic, my gown crinkled as I lied down on the table. Pain meds took effect and the room became warmer and thicker.
“What are you doing after this?’ the urologist asked.
Lunges. Rock climbing. Playing Racquetball. I resisted the urge to respond with a smart-ass answer.
“Going home to nap,” I said.
“That was a trick question,” said the nurse, explaining men are notorious for not resting after vasectomies, and then returning a few days later in pain.
Twice, the urologist stuck the needle into my scrotum. Two bee stings. Staring at the ceiling tiles, I rehashed in my mind the conversation with my wife. I wondered why I had thought so little about birth control. As a teenager, I learned about condoms but, for the most part, birth control revolved around the female body. The unspoken message was: it’s a girl’s job to prevent pregnancy. Girls were supposed to know the cycle of their body and, eventually, deal with pills, injections, and implants. Not boys.
Boys are conditioned to think it’s their role to repair the sink drain or change the oil in the car or clean the gutters. But we are not taught to think about birth control. Instead, we expect girls to take care of it because they are the ones burdened with carrying a child in their bodies. We don’t realize how sexist our thinking is and how absurd it is to believe we’re not equally responsible for preventing unwanted pregnancies. A friend recently reminded me: “one hundred percent of unwanted pregnancies are caused by men ejaculating somewhere in the vicinity of a cervix. Absolutely ZERO unwanted pregnancies come about without the involvement of a penis.”
My vasectomy didn’t take long. The urologist sliced my vas deferens (the tubes containing semen) and stitched up my scrotum in the time it takes to watch an episode of Schitt’s Creek.
“You did well,” said the urologist.
He joked about men whimpering like they’re having a leg amputated. If there ever was a ripe moment for a joke it was this one, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. I smiled as the nurse handed me a jockstrap, instructing me to come back in four weeks with a semen sample so the clinic could declare me sterile.
At home, I spent a few days in bed with a bag of frozen peas on my crotch. My wife brought me meds and listened to me whine; she offered little sympathy but did remind me I had never experienced the pain of natural childbirth.
I had plenty of quiet time to think about how unbalanced birth control had been in my marriage. Perhaps the worst part of men’s neglect in this area is we don’t consider the extent of the toll managing it alone can take on women—physically, emotionally, and financially. And now with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it will be harder for women across the country, particularly those in states with a lack of access to abortion. These women will have fewer options and bear an even heavier burden as they deal with birth control on their own.
If we value gender equality, we must plant the idea of male contraception in our boys’ minds so the next generation of women aren’t left alone. If you care about your children experiencing a world where they are equals in their marriage, we can’t dump this responsibility on women any longer. It’s time to wake up and realize sharing the responsibility of reproduction is a man’s job too.
Out of curiosity, I explored what men could do to contribute more to birth control. Unfortunately, the options are limited; besides condoms, there isn’t much available. Vasectomy remains an option but requires surgery and isn’t helpful to young couples who wish to have children.
The good news is that there is a future for male contraception. Trials have been running for years, it turns out, to produce a reliable birth control for men. One of the most promising options in development is a skin gel funded by the National Institute of Health. The gel absorbs through skin and reduces sperm production in the testes. In our son’s lifetimes, they will likely have other choices as well. It seems our job now is to prepare them for this reality.
Recovering in bed, I imagined sitting on the couch across from teenage versions of my sons and discussing pregnancy and birth control. I considered what I would say to help them understand they share the responsibility of birth control. How could I make it clear they shouldn’t leave women alone to deal with birth control?
In my mind, I pause for a moment and look them in the eye. I say: if there is one thing you remember from this conversation, I hope it is this: birth control is as much your responsibility as it is a woman’s. I expect you to do your part to insure you don’t you don’t have a child before you are ready to care for one. They nod their heads and avert their eyes in embarrassment.
What might the future look like if we have this conversation with our sons? I know what will happen if we don’t. Nothing. We will perpetuate the pattern of women dealing with birth control alone. I don’t want it to take forty years for my sons to realize this is wrong.
Billy Kilgore is a father of two wild boys and an at-home dad of eight years living in Nashville, Tennessee. When not hiding from his family in the bathroom, he enjoys visits to the zoo to see the African porcupines.
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