Virtual Vasectomies: Not Just for Men

The World Vasectomy Day "clinic" at the International Conference on Family Planning in Kigali, Rwanda seemed to attract more passerby after adding the word "Virtual" above their sign.
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ICFP conference-goers seemed more eager to make eye contact with the World Vasectomy Day "clinic" after the word "virtual" was added to the sign. Image by Dayna Kerecman Myers, Kigali, Rwanda

KIGALI—In Rwanda, it might be easier to clear up misconceptions about vasectomies if it didn’t share a word with castration in Kinyarwanda, one of the country’s official languages.

Other languages present the same issue, leading to a bit of a branding challenge for the only permanent contraception method for men. Vasectomy advocates are getting around that by promoting use of the English word, vasectomy instead, Alison Hoover, World Vasectomy Day’s program manager, says. 

Her team set up shop to provide virtual vasectomies on the sidelines of the International Conference on Family Planning in Kigali, Rwanda this week (conveniently timed to coincide with World Vasectomy Day today). They wanted to offer the actual procedure, but weren’t able to because of restrictions surrounding health procedures outside of hospital settings. Still, they’ve had a steady stream of “patients” donning VR headsets and lying on the table as a kindly doctor hovers above and cheerfully walks them through the 3-minute procedure.

A World Vasectomy Day "patient" at the International Conference on Family Planning prepares to go under the virtual knife.
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A World Vasectomy Day "patient" at the International Conference on Family Planning prepares to go under the virtual knife. Image by Dayna Kerecman Myers

Hoover said that a lot of people hop off the table saying things like “That was it?” or “Oh, that’s much easier than I thought, I thought it was castration!”

It’s also a chance to replace common myths with facts, such as:

  • Men who have had a vasectomy do not report more sexual difficulties, and it doesn’t prevent them from producing testosterone.
  • It doesn’t increase men’s risk for diseases (though it also doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections).
  • The most uncomfortable part? Usually the anesthesia.

World Vasectomy Day also offers lighthearted Flavors of Family Planning videos, including this one in Kinyarwanda showing vasectomies performed on unwitting fruits and vegetables:

“It’s all about finding ways to meaningfully engage men in quality conversations about family planning,” Hoover told me. But it’s not just for men—while I was there, a couple of women underwent the procedure, too. “That’s the whole point,” Hoover told me—the World Vasectomy Day team wants everyone to understand the procedure better, and talk with their partners about it.

Full disclosure: In the spirit of reporting, I went under the virtual knife as well, and the whole thing seemed pretty friendly and easy—although I did, somewhat inexplicably, flinch once.


Global Health NOW’s Dayna Kerecman Myers, with Gates Institute support is among the journalists reporting from Rwanda at the 2018 ICFP. Check back every day this week for exclusives from the conference, and follow our conference blog here.

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