The Great Vasectomy Fear: The Myth of Impotency

Masimba Biriwasha

Due to traditional beliefs about male virility, many men worldwide shun vasectomy, reducing the efficacy of this reliable method of contraception.

For most men, the idea of vasectomy,
a surgical procedure to cut and close off the tubes that deliver sperm
from the testicles, is a complete no-can-do associated with being sexually
dysfunctional in the male psyche. 

According to the latest issue of Population
Reports, titled "Vasectomy: Reaching
Out to New Users,"

published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,
vasectomy is simpler and more cost effective than female sterilization
and offers men a way to share responsibility for family planning. 

"The most entrenched and powerful
rumors concern manhood, masculinity, and sexual performance. Many men
confuse vasectomy with castration and fear, incorrectly, that vasectomy
will make them impotent," says the report.  But in fact, "Castration involves removal of the testicles.
In contrast, vasectomy leaves the testicles intact, and they continue
to produce male hormones."

The procedure
which typically takes from 15-30 minutes and usually causes few complications
and no change in sexual function is one of the most reliable forms of
contraception. Though it does not offer protection against sexually
transmitted infections or HIV, for couples it is
a way for men to be directly involved in family planning. Family planning has been largely seen
as the responsibility of women but vasectomies allow men to
play a part.

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The report states that the largest
number of vasectomized men are in China, where almost 7% of women in relationships — or more than 17 million couples — rely on vasectomy for birth control.

Although the process of vasectomy does
not usually pose any medical risks, the uptake of this contraceptive
method is very low in many developing countries. 

The report states that worldwide fewer
than 3% of women ages 15 to 49 who are married or in partnerships rely on a
partner’s vasectomy for contraception. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than
one-tenth of 1% of women in union rely on a partner’s vasectomy for
contraception. Even in developed countries overall the uptake of vasectomy
is very low with less than 5% of women relying on vasectomy. 

Due to traditional and cultural beliefs
about male virility, many men shun vasectomy. The fear that
vasectomy will cause impotence makes many men turn away from opting
for vasectomy as a family planning method. 

Also, in many parts of the developing
world very few men have heard about the contraceptive method. But many men want to know that they are able
to impregnate a woman whenever they choose to — thereby lessening the procedure’s appeal.

To promote vasectomy requires the mammoth
task of dispelling the myths surrounding the contraceptive, in particular,
reassuring men that their sexuality will not be effective after the procedure.  It is critical to communicate
the fact that a vasectomy will not affect a man’s sex drive, as the
procedure does not affect the production of male hormones.  

Another key message is that vasectomy is
an option for all men; it is only appropriate for men who no longer want to bear children. Following a vasectomy a man will continue
to enjoy sex, and produce the same amount of fluid when he ejaculates —
but the fluid will not contain sperm that can impregnate a woman.  

The report recommends that mass media
and interpersonal communication directed to clients can dispel myths
and rumors, disseminate accurate information about the procedure, tell
men where the method is offered, and prompt men to discuss vasectomy
with family and friends. 

also needs to be promoted throughout health care systems, and all clinic
staff should receive general training to help them better understand vasectomy, and ultimately feel comfortable with male clients. 

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