When Josh Hambrock first noticed the lump, he did what a lot of people do when they have a question about their health these days: He googled.
It was spring of 2015, and the Chicago-based actor was toggling between auditions and a string of freelance gigs that paid the rent. An internet search of his symptoms led him to believe that the small mass in his right testicle was probably not a big deal. “It’s just a thing that will come and go away on its own,” he remembers thinking.
But it didn’t go away. As the months ticked by, the lump felt bigger.
Then, in August, the company Hambrock was working for laid off its staff, leaving him without steady income or insurance. He finally told his brother and another friend about his symptoms; they urged him to see a physician. That’s when he turned to Planned Parenthood, where he’d been before with a girlfriend but never as a patient himself.
Right after Thanksgiving, Hambrock walked into a clinic and saw a physician, who referred him for an ultrasound and urged him to visit an emergency room. It was the right move. Within the week, Hambrock had a diagnosis: early stage testicular cancer. He was 27 years old.
Ten days after visiting the Planned Parenthood clinic, he underwent surgery to excise the tumor. “I don’t know what I would have done without that consultation,” he says now, looking back.
Every year, an estimated 2.5 million people like Hambrock visit Planned Parenthood centers for health services; in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, approximately 250,000 of those people were men. That figure is on the rise: Since 2004, the number of male patients has increased 76%, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson told Refinery29.
“We provide sexual and reproductive health care for men, vasectomy services in some of our health centers, help with premature ejaculation — a whole range of services for our male patients,” says Reagan McDonald-Mosley, MD, Planned Parenthood for America’s chief medical officer. “They rely on us for that care.”
But even though Planned Parenthood’s mission has been open to men since its origin, stories like Hambrock’s largely fly under the radar — as does the fact that, if Planned Parenthood were to lose federal funding, men would feel the impact alongside women. In other words: There's more hanging in the balance than women's reproductive and family-planning resources. Men could lose access to crucial care, too.
“I think the biggest problem with taking away the funding from any service like Planned Parenthood is, how do you then provide the service?” says Ilan Ben-Yehuda, 36, of Brooklyn, who has turned to clinics across the country for healthcare services since his college days. He’s far from the only man we spoke to with that question: In addition to Ben-Yehuda and Hambrock, Refinery29 heard from six others who have patronized Planned Parenthood clinics as patients over the years. They all echoed similar concerns about what might happen if the Republican-led agenda to defund succeeds.
Ben-Yehuda has been receiving health services at Planned Parenthood clinics since the early 2000s, beginning when he was an undergraduate in Tallahassee, FL, as well as in the tiny town of Eureka, CA, and later in the NYC metro area. One aspect that differentiates Planned Parenthood from other clinics, in his mind, is how the staff there make sure everyone walking through the door knows they are in a judgment-free zone.
"People who work there seem to know in some instances that this is difficult for people. Not only getting over their own ‘whatever’ to talk about something that might be taboo for them,” says Ben-Yehuda, who most recently visited the clinic in Manhattan for testing with his girlfriend.
Peter*, of New York City, expounded on that sentiment from a slightly different perspective: As a gay man living in Iowa during his early 20s, he didn't have a general practitioner he trusted. He knew that, at Planned Parenthood, he wouldn't be judged or shamed for his sexual orientation. "A lot of men — straight and gay — worry about having a prostate exam at the doctor,” he told us.
"I think men in general just feel more embarrassed, and more ashamed about that kind of stuff. But at a place like Planned Parenthood, I think they would probably feel a lot more comfortable with those types of procedures."
There's more hanging in the balance than women's reproductive and family-planning resources. Men could lose access to crucial care, too.
So why don’t more men turn to Planned Parenthood for their healthcare needs?
One reason boils down to how the organization is portrayed by media and politicians, explained Michael Quindlen, 45, of Baltimore. Quindlen, who began receiving health care through PPFA more than 20 years ago in Philadelphia, explained that he thinks many men only associate the organization with women’s issues — specifically, they see it as an abortion provider.
"I don’t think most men even realize they could use Planned Parenthood services until they get pushed into a corner and they don’t have the resources to [seek treatment] elsewhere,” he says, adding that he first turned to Planned Parenthood for testing as a teenager when he didn’t want his doctor visit to turn up on his parents’ medical bills.
Hambrock shores up that point. "I wish there were other male public figures who would speak more about Planned Parenthood from the angle of it being for everyone. As cheesy as it sounds, some sort of celebrity campaign could help — having someone like, say, Chris Pratt, talk about Planned parenthood as a place that men could go, that there's no shame in going there; that would be amazing."
Trickier to pinpoint than how Planned Parenthood might better market itself to men is a strategy for how to drown out the pro-life party line that the organization is mainly an abortion provider. Certainly, anti-abortion rhetoric and many pro-choice advocates focus on its abortion services, which makes up just 3% of overall services. It's a strategic, if misrepresentative, move that not only misdirects attention but also largely leaves men's health needs out of the discussion.
But while some men may not realize that Planned Parenthood is a resource for them, others think of visiting Planned Parenthood as a no-brainer — especially if you’re new to town, sexually active, and regularly being tested for STI and STDs.
Carlo Francisco, a 27-year-old who resides in Brooklyn, booked his first appointment in 2016, for a STI check. He had just moved to the city and, though he had health insurance, did not have a primary care physician. He was impressed by the standard of privacy evident at every step of his Planned Parenthood process.
“It was very much, ‘Oh, do you want an anonymized phone call? If you want a receipt, do you want the names to be blacked out?’” Francisco recalls. “That’s something I’d never seen before.”
He is acutely fearful about the potential defunding measure, though less for himself than for his sister. “This is one of the few things the government provides for people,” he says, adding that there is a “chilling sensation” that “everything is going away.”
Another reason to make a Planned Parenthood appointment rather than go to your primary care physician for testing: It’s a way to vote with your dollars — that’s what Doug*, a New Yorker who works in media, told us.
"On one hand, Planned Parenthood is just another healthcare provider, at a customer-experience level,” he says. “But on the other hand, it has this very vital role in American society. It’s part of supporting both women’s rights and human rights.”
Brooklynite Shawn Forno, 34, who has been regularly visiting Planned Parenthood in Manhattan for eight years, also told us he feels a responsibility for advocating on the clinic’s behalf by emphasizing that defunding PPFA would be bad for everyone — not just women.
"The narrative out there is painting Planned Parenthood as an abortion factory. It’s just not the case,” Forno wrote to Refinery29 in an email, adding that he began going to the clinic when he was without the money or the means to seek private care. “Planned Parenthood is a place where people who would otherwise have to go without testing or treatment — for financial or other reasons — can get access to important care, testing, and information."
Dr. McDonald-Mosley wholeheartedly agrees. “It’s not just a women’s health issue and a reproductive rights issue,” she told us. “It’s about health care overall. And if Planned Parenthood is first, what’s next?” she adds. “It’s a very slippery slope.”
While only time will tell whether or not the measure to defund succeeds, one thing is for certain: Men will feel the impact of the budget cut alongside women — just ask Josh Hambrock. He credits Planned Parenthood with giving him resources he needed, at a time when he didn’t know where else to turn.
"To know that you can go there to get good directional sense of what to do next — that alone, in a time when you are financially struggling and freaked out because there’s this thing that hasn’t gone away, and you don’t know what it represents, and you don’t know what it’s going to turn out to be — to go there and feel some modicum of security, that's invaluable."
"I didn’t feel like a stranger walking in there," he explained. "I felt like I was going to the right place."
*Names have been changed.