Father's Guide to Vasectomies
By Kevin Nelson
Every year about 500,000 American men have vasectomies. Most of them are fathers who don't want to have any more kids and who, by having a vasectomy, are taking over the birth control responsibilities from their partner. At the very least, a vasectomy is safer and easier than a tubal ligation, the equivalent procedure for women.
A vasectomy is clearly right for some guys and not for others. And while it may not be right for you now, it might become a more attractive option as time goes by--and as your brood increases. But every man should consider certain "factors" (as they like to say on the football telecasts) before having the operation done.
The Manhood Factor
Some men simply can't conceive of having a vasectomy because in their mind they would no longer be, well, men. When they face off with a woman at the Sperm Corral (even if that woman is their wife), they always want to be packing. No shooting blanks for them.
Ironically, this is one of the virtues of a vasectomy, say fathers who have had them. There is no affect on either performance or sex drive. They have free, uninhibited sex without worrying about birth control or the possibility that they might be making another little rug-rat who's going to poop his pants and throw food at the dinner table.
A vasectomy is not castration. And unless your surgeon's name tag reads "Dr. Lorena Bobbitt," you need not worry. Mr. Big Boy and his two saggy pals are yours to keep.
The Pain Factor
A vasectomy is considered "minor" surgery, which brings up the old joke about minor surgery being surgery that is performed on someone else. Most men would agree that any slicing and dicing done in their genital region is, by definition, NOT minor.
Nevertheless, it's a routine outpatient operation, takes about a half hour, and costs $300 to $400, although your medical insurance will probably pick up the tab. You are awake the whole time. A local anesthetic is applied to numb the scrotum, and this is the most painful part of the procedure. One father of two we spoke to described this as "a ten second elevator ride of pain." Another father, however, said he didn't feel a thing: "They gave me a Mickey Finn beforehand so I was blissfully adrift."
The surgeon or urologist makes cuts in the upper part of the scrotum, which is the sack that holds your balls. This allows him to reach the vas deferens, which sounds like a Swedish gymnast but is actually a pair of tubes that play a big role in your reproductive machinery. The vas deferens are tied off and cut in half or yes, cauterized. (One father reports seeing smoke rising from his gonads as doctors conducted the procedure.) Once these tubes are cut and tied off, the sperm cannot mix with the semen. Your balls still make sperm as before, but with the vas deferens freeway onramp blocked, the sperm simply dissolve.
And since semen consists almost entirely of seminal fluid, you will continue to ejaculate. The difference is, your wad will no longer contain the baby-making material of sperm.
The Queasiness Factor
Typically, soreness and mild discomfort lasts for a few days after the operation. One father of three laughed about lying around the house with an icepack on his balls. Another father told us that despite repeated icings, his nuts turned "the color of plum jelly" after the operation. "Four days ago I had a pair of testicles," he complained to his doctor. "Today I have a couple of Concord grapes!"
The scrotum can swell and minor bleeding occur under the skin, similar to what happens when you get a black eye. Another father reported that his balls initially turned black and blue. Then over the next two weeks he watched helplessly as they turned even more bizarre colors before reverting back to normal.
The non-vasectomy guys can make all the jokes they want about the vasectomy guys, but it takes a real man to sit there and watch your balls turn blue.
The Hold Your Horses Factor
Only one out of 1,000 vasectomies fails. But even as virtually foolproof as the procedure is, it doesn't work right away. You may still have some survivalist sperm hiding in your vas deferens tubes, barricading the doors, refusing to come out. It takes one to three months for these rascals to finally fade away and for you to reach a sperm count of zero. Until this occurs, don't throw away the Trojans because you can still make a baby. Eight or so weeks after the surgery you will be asked to bring in a semen sample for testing. That's another thing to look forward to.
The Risk Factor
Complications are extremely rare. Fewer than three men out of 100 report serious post-operative problems. In recent years some medical journals have suggested that vasectomy patients may face an increased risk of prostate cancer. Other studies dispute this, though, and the procedure is widely regarded as extremely safe with no long-term side effects. Nevertheless, the American Urological Association recommends that all men 40 and over who have had a vasectomy twenty years previously, should be checked yearly for prostate cancer.
The No Changing Your Mind Factor
A vasectomy should be regarded as permanent. So don't let anyone (including your children's mother) pressure you into doing something you don't want to. It's your call.
Men who have vasectomies tend to be on the older side of the spectrum--or should be. In fact, fathers in their twenties are strongly urged not to have one. While your marriage may be rock-solid now, things do change and it's possible for you to divorce, remarry and want to have children again with a prospective new bride. If you're still dead-set on the operation, consider making a few deposits at your local sperm bank.
Vasectomies can be reversed, but often only after considerable expense and inconvenience. And even if they are able to rewire your tubes, it's no cinch that you'll be able to father a child. If you have any doubts at all, don't do it. Wait until you're completely sure. The fathers who've had it done say it's one of the best things they've ever done for themselves.
Nelson is the father of two children and the author of Playground
Pop, dadmag.com's new serial novel. He plans to have a vasectomy in
the next few months. He promises to keep us posted.
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