Five years ago, while walking in the park with a childhood friend, we began a typical guy conversation, covering topics from the World Series to his upcoming vasectomy to the financial challenge of supporting the school he had launched in the Amazon to train indigenous people as environmental activists. In one of those a-ha moments, I suggested we auction off his vasectomy to raise money. We’d describe him as “a man who is willing to put his balls on the line for Mother Earth.”
I ran home to plot out our strategy, but 15 minutes later, his wife called to let me know in no uncertain terms that her husband is “not going on film to put his balls on the line for Mother Earth or any other planet,” and in closing, “if it's such a great idea, do it yourself.” Click.
That was the inspiration for World Vasectomy Day on Friday. The dream to fund a school in the Amazon morphed into a global event whose purpose is to inspire a conversation about sexuality, male responsibility for family planning, and of course the complex issue of population on the planet.
As a documentary filmmaker, I have traveled for 25 years covering war, child soldiers, poverty, extreme crime and punishment, and ecological disaster, and while I don’t believe our destiny is determined by numbers alone, every problem we face is made more difficult to resolve with more people.
Along the way to World Vasectomy Day, I made a film about Doug Stein, one of the world’s most committed vasectomists. He’s performed more than 30,000 procedures in Florida, Haiti, the Philippines, and Kenya. He is a man on a mission to save the planet, one vasectomy at time.
While drinking beer one evening in Kenya, I came up with the idea to convince 100 doctors in 25 countries to perform 1,000 vasectomies. I Googled “World Vasectomy Day,” and to my surprise, nothing came up. I tracked down a paper by statistician Paul Murtaugh who calculated that each vasectomy reduces someone’s carbon footprint by more than 28 lifetimes’ worth of recycling, reusing, and reducing. Another researcher figured out that every 1,000 vasectomies in Africa save the lives of between 15 and 21 women who would otherwise die giving birth.
I announced to a few friends and colleagues that we’re going to create a new global cause. Some laughed; most just thought I’d lost it. Others warned me that raising the issue of overpopulation is dangerous, a first step on a slippery slope to eugenics, forced sterilization, or even genocide. Many days I wanted to give up and pretend I never came up with this idea.
Then the Royal Institution of Australia and the Australian Festival of Ideas, both based in Adelaide, agreed to serve as headquarters for World Vasectomy Day. Stein will lead our vasectomy-athon, and 16 men agreed to have their vasectomies done before a live audience. Surrounding Stein and his patients will be a roundtable of scientists discussing population and the future of the planet, including Paul Ehrlich, author of the 1968 best seller The Population Bomb. The whole event is to be live-streamed, and instead of 100 doctors, close to 200 doctors from 25 countries and counting will participate. Our film The Vasectomist will premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival.
The dream that began on a walk in the park is finally happening. I don’t know where the path will take us. Is this the last World Vasectomy Day or the first of many? Are we witnessing a shift in consciousness that celebrates the courage of men who take responsibility for themselves, their families, and our future? Stick around. The final act is yet to be written.
I had my vasectomy, and I’m very happy. Indeed, it’s great to not worry about pregnancy. I like it. Save the world and have better sex. That’s a cause I can support.
Correction, Oct. 17, 2013: This article’s headline originally implied that vasectomies are performed using a scalpel. In many cases, a no-scalpel procedure is performed instead.