Vasectomy: Toast of the Town

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Spring 2000, Vol. 38, No. 1

Vasectomy: Toast of the Town

Robert Becker

Last Friday night, Matt Campbell stopped off for a beer at a bar in Tampa, Florida, on his way home from his job at a clothing store. While sipping his beer, he noticed that the coaster under his mug featured the message "Make my next one a vasectomy" and gave a local hotline number to call for information.

"What an unusual way to get people to think about this!" laughed Matt, who is 35. "My wife and I have three kids. Maybe it's time for us to look into a long-term plan."

Although Matt is not a real person, he represents many men in Pinellas County, Florida, who lack information about and access to vasectomy services. With funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, AVSC's U.S. program worked in conjunction with the Pinellas County Department of Health (DOH) to launch a vasectomy marketing campaign in late 1998 to increase access to vasectomy by low-income and minority men.

Vasectomy Marketing Kit: First of Its Kind

Coasters (above) and posters (below) helped advertise vasectomy services. Illustration

The coasters were part of a marketing kit designed by AVSC and Belinoff & Bagley, a marketing firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The kit--whose theme is "You'd be surprised"--also includes posters, brochures, and temporary tattoos.

The materials address fears and misconceptions about vasectomy while discussing issues of masculinity, sexual enhancement, and sexual health. Their aim is to help men and women become more comfortable discussing vasectomy while learning why the procedure may be the right option for both partners.

"[The kit is] a very clever, lighthearted way of addressing a topic that many couples are not comfortable discussing," says Jim Welch, a health educator at the DOH and coordinator of the campaign.

Effort Pays Off

Coasters from the kit were given to restaurants and bars in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, and brochures and posters were displayed at restaurants, bars, gyms, and malls throughout the county. As a result, the hotline received nearly 250 calls, with most callers seeking information and many making appointments for services.

During the three-month campaign, 25 vasectomies were performed at the DOH--more than five times as many as any other county in Florida during the same period. In comparison, Pinellas did not provide any vasectomy services during the last quarter of 1997.

Making Services Accessible

Since 1998, AVSC has been training service providers in Pinellas and other Florida counties in the no-scalpel vasectomy technique. In exchange for this training, Pinellas subsidizes vasectomies for low-income men, making them low-cost or free.

This is important for men like Matt, who use public health services and for whom the procedure would otherwise be out of reach. While most of the vasectomies performed in the U.S. are conducted at private facilities and covered by private insurance, only 17% of public family planning clinics provide the services, and 19% of clinics neither provide the services nor refer men elsewhere for them.

AVSC plans to continue training providers and marketing vasectomy services in other U.S. states to enable couples to choose the family planning method that is best for them.

Robert Becker is a program associate for AVSC's U.S. program and primary coordinator of the vasectomy social marketing project.

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