Getting a vasectomy is personal. This is why I'm making mine public.

W. Kamau Bell is a sociopolitical comedian who is the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning CNN Original Series "United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell." Kamau has a Netflix stand-up comedy special, "Private School Negro," and a book with the easy-to-remember title "The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6' 4", African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian." The views expressed here are his; read more opinion on CNN. To learn more, watch "United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell" on Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

When my wife first suggested that I get a vasectomy, I thought she was joking. (We're all comedians in my family; I'm just the only professional one.)

But then I saw the look on her face -- and it was a look that read, "I am absolutely NOT joking."

Honestly at that point, I didn't know what to think. A vasectomy? It sounded awful. And surgery is a big deal. I've had several, and they were always the last measure taken after all other options were evaluated. Shouldn't we at least consider other options? Also, I DON'T WANT A KNIFE NEAR MY GENITALS!!!

Basically, my first answer all came down to fear: "I'm not doing that," I responded. It actually sounded more like, "HEEEEEEEEEELL NO! Why would I do that?!"

Don't get me wrong: I was firmly in camp "no more kids" along with Melissa. We have three incredible daughters, who are seven, four, and 11 months old. But with our lives, schedules, ages, me wanting to keep up with stage four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Melissa learning that "Grey's Anatomy" has two more seasons coming, we knew we were done. What I didn't understand is why she couldn't just keep taking the birth control pill. After all, it had done well by us for … I couldn't even remember how long.

"Fifteen years," Melissa told me. "For fifteen years, I've been taking the pill." That means my wife had been altering her body chemistry for my pleasure and carrying the responsibility of our family planning, while I just got to be footloose and condom-free.

My first problem was that I didn't know anyone else who'd had a vasectomy. Men don't really talk about their private parts with each other, unless we are bragging, lying, making fun of each other, or doing some combination of the three.” — W. Kamau Bell

Fifteen years is a long time. There was absolutely no way for me to argue that it wasn't long enough. It was my turn.

But anybody who knows me knows that I have to make things make sense to me before I do them. For a guy who didn't do that great in school, I love a research project. I had to do two kinds of research for this: the external kind where I read up on the idea and talk to people, and the internal kind where I figure out what this means for me.

My first problem was that I didn't know anyone else who'd had a vasectomy. Men don't really talk about their private parts with each other, unless we are bragging, lying, making fun of each other, or doing some combination of the three. I can't think of one time in my life that a man has come to me to ask for help figuring out a situation with his penis. Guys ask for advice about situations they have gotten into with their penis, but rarely about anything that resembles a true conversation. From what my friends who are women have told me, women often start consulting with other women about all aspects of their bodies once puberty kicks in. Because in my experience men don't do that, I had no idea if any men in my life had gone through with a vasectomy.

W. Kamau Bell visits his surgeon with wife Dr. Melissa Hudson Bell.
Bell allowed cameras in the room to film the entire surgery.

I don't think you have to have a PhD in psychology to know that all this "not talking" is related to toxic masculinity. Luckily for me, my wife talked to one of her friends and found out that her friend's husband had a vasectomy. Once again, my wife was somehow in charge of the family planning.

After I thought about it, getting a vasectomy seemed much less life-threatening than bungee jumping with the KKK.” — W. Kamau Bell

Then I had to wrestle with the idea of actually having it done. When ideas seem ridiculous and/or dangerous, I have to figure out if they are actually ridiculous and/or dangerous or if I'm just afraid of them and I should challenge myself. That's how I ended up finally getting on a rollercoaster when I was a full-grown adult. That's how I decided I could wear the color orange. And that's how I decided to visit the KKK in season one of "United Shades of America."

This is also why I've never gone bungee jumping; it seems like a really dumb way for my wife and kids to find out I died, so no thank you.

After I thought about it, getting a vasectomy seemed much less life-threatening than bungee jumping with the KKK.

I also had to figure out if any of my manhood was caught up in my ability to reproduce. I didn't think that it was -- I don't have dreams of being like actor Tony Randall, who had a child with his wife at 78 years old. But I'm also not immune to the "locker room conversations" where men often encourage other men to completely define each other by size and potency. I put quotations around the term "locker room" because these talks don't just happen in those spaces. They happen in bathrooms, at sporting events, at the office, and in buses on the way to TV appearances. Locker room conversations are like church in the Bible: anywhere two or more men are gathered, a locker room conversation can occur.

And I have engaged in and enjoyed my share. But I don't treat them as the Gospel of man. I think this is most likely because as a kid, I would go home to my single mom who was great at deprogramming -- or maybe reprogramming -- me after those conversations. She, and others, helped me understand how to separate my sense of identity from what society says a man should be. I'm not pitching myself as some sort of evolved, new age man. I'm just aware that, because of how I grew up and who was around me, I have been able to separate who I am from what I am.

Growing up, there was so much talk about "challenging manhood:" "YOU GONNA LET HIM LOOK AT YOU LIKE THAT?" The most freeing thing I learned was to be able to just respond, "Yeah." And then just keep it moving. Bruce Lee called it the Art of Fighting without Fighting. We could fight. Maybe I win. But why would I want to do that? I could be home watching TV and not fighting.

So in this case I guess that means that, no, my ability to procreate is not connected to who I am or how I define my manhood.

Then I had to decide if I was afraid of the pain. That one was a yes; I was 100% afraid of the pain. When you are born with a penis and testicles, you learn early on how sensitive that area is and to protect it at all cost. One of the weird bonding rituals of boys when I was a kid was constantly threatening to kick, punch, slap, cup check, or destroy each other's twig and berries. And when someone did manage to render said violence, you would just collapse in a heap on the floor, slowly rocking back and forth, trying to stop the tears from rolling down your eyes, while choking out a forced laugh.

And this isn't just limited to little boys. Adult men engage in this behavior, too. I guarantee you that at some point Eric Trump has stood over Don Jr. in the Oval Office laughing while Don Jr. sputtered out, "You… got… me... bro."

But again, I did some research online and talked to my wife's friend's husband (who I'm not naming here because he is not a public figure, and having a vasectomy was not something he wanted on page one of his Google search). I learned that the entire surgery is about ten minutes, and the pain isn't "that bad." Obviously "that bad" is subjective, so I asked for a range. Currently, the worst pain I've ever had was a root canal… at a dental school. I was assured that this was closer to a "deep cleaning at the dentist" level of pain.

But what about after the surgery? How bad is that? How many days would I be out of action? Well, apparently the reason that some guys have the surgery on Friday afternoon is so they can take the weekend off. And for many, the best prescription is ibuprofen and frozen peas. You don't eat the peas. You sit on the peas. I guess I could handle that.

There was also something else. As a black man, I have read about all the things that America has done to black people because America didn't see us as humans. One of those is forced sterilization.

It has been used to control the population of black people as well as others that America was suspicious of, including Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, Indigenous peoples and prisoners. A lot of this has even happened in my so-called liberal home state of California, and I'm not talking about ancient history.

So even though I knew this was a personal decision, I had to reckon with the fact that for some black people, me submitting to a vasectomy is a loss and giving in to a country trying to destroy black masculinity. I had to reckon with the fact that for some white people, one less sterile black man is a part of America being great again. Once again in my life, I had to reckon with the fact that America has a funny way of making white people feel like individuals while making people of color feel like we are forever members of a group.

But I know that if I always play into America's narrative of blackness, and if every decision that I make is always in response to that narrative, then I wouldn't really be living at all. This vasectomy is about my life and my family. And yes, technically I could have it reversed, but from what I've learned, that surgery is way worse than getting a vasectomy. It is around two to four hours, much more complicated, requires general anesthesia, and worst of all it isn't covered by my insurance!

So, I went ahead with it. I scheduled the surgery. I chose to do it now because at the same time I was considering it, I was also working on a very special episode of "United Shades of America" in Jackson, Mississippi.

I spent a week in Jackson learning about the fight for reproductive justice. It is an episode filled with mostly black women who, although they are well aware of the redness of their state's politics, are unfettered in their struggle to make their state recognize each woman's human, civil, and reproductive rights. It may sound intense, but it was also incredibly inspiring, and inspiringly filled with laughter.

If those badass women can stand up in the face of all that, then I can lie down for a ten minute surgery. And in an effort to get more men to talk about their private parts in healthy and helpful ways, we filmed the whole surgery -- you can watch it right at the top of this page.

Spoiler alert: It was way easier than a root canal.


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About the show

United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell is an eight-part Emmy Award-winning CNN Original Series that follows Bell as he explores communities across the country to understand the unique challenges they face. In the season four premiere, Bell traveled to Dallas to learn about the business of megachurches. In subsequent episodes, he explores the experiences of Hmong Americans; black Midwesterners; white activists in Seattle; women fighting for reproductive justice in Mississippi; the LGBTQ + community in Salt Lake City; and residents of Washington, D.C., who represent a vibrant culture distinct from the politics surrounding them. Catch up on these episodes and more via CNNgo.

“Everywhere I go – airports, coffee shops, the park with my kids — people tell me how much United Shades of America means to them,” said Bell. “They say it’s the first time they’ve seen their community portrayed authentically on TV. And I also get feedback on what could be done differently. All those conversations informed this season and you will immediately know that from the first notes of our new theme song, ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing’.”