Here is what I don’t want to see when lying on a table with my pants down: A doctor, wielding sharp instruments, digging around in the numb valley of my groin, looking for something they can’t find. I feel a dull pressure and hear a snip. I peek out beneath my eyelids at the frustrated doc; he exhales, and shakes his head sideways. Still can’t find it. Back into the fray, he goes.
One week before my 41st birthday, I lay prone under harsh fluorescent lights for an hour and let a young doctor poke into my genitals. He was looking for something he described as “the size of a piece of spaghetti.” Two pieces, actually; One vas deferens—the tube that supplies sperm to the urethra—for the left testicle, and another for the right. My vasectomy was supposed to be over by now—a vasectomy procedure takes, on average, 20 minutes. With every empty ‘snip,’ the erratic ticking like a dysfunctional metronome, I began to wonder whether I’d made a horrible mistake. Perhaps I’m not supposed to be doing this?
Only one in ten sexually active males opt for a vasectomy, yet close to one out of three women end up with tubal ligation, or getting their “tubes tied.” That a vasectomy has no such cheeky nickname speaks volumes to how much we consider and talk about male sterilization. Which is almost never.
It seems that men don’t want to get a vasectomy done for, frankly, stupid reasons: Misinformed ideas about losing virility or sex drive, or just some kind of ego-driven madness that equates their ability to impregnate something with power and manhood.
MH advisor Larry Lipshultz, M.D, at Baylor College of Medicine, has been reassuring his patients for the past twenty years. “When you have a vasectomy,” he tells me over the phone, “[ejaculation] doesn’t look any different. It doesn’t feel any different.”
For my procedure, I opted for a local anesthetic instead of a sedative. Big mistake: Those meds help the important parts get all nice and droopy. (Every patient is different, says Dr. Lipshultz, but the American Urological Association recommends a local anesthetic with or without oral sedation.)
Apparently, I was a bit tense. Which made it hard for the doc to grab what he was looking for, and the excess cutting and poking makes the area swell up, which makes it even harder to apprehend the offending party.
All of which the doc explained to me while I lay prone on a table, numb (mostly) from the waist down, as he continued to dig. At one point–as he stood, scissors in hand, focused and steady and still–the lights in the room cut off. Total darkness. Motion detectors in an operating clinic room probably shouldn’t be a thing.
Dr. Lipshultz tells me my procedure was highly unusual. “Once you get the vas [deferens] in your clamp, it’s minutes before you’re done,” Lipshultz says. “Once you find it, doing the rest of it is–snip, snip, snip.”
Perhaps the hardest thing to find is the courage to make that first appointment. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, urologists say they’ve seen men come out of the proverbial woodwork to do the deed. This makes me think men’s collective indifference had as much to do with our own apathy—we knew if something unexpected happened, our partner could take care of it—as with misconceptions about vasectomies.
So let’s clear up a few myths about the big V.
Will it impact your sex life? Yes, but not how you think. Biologically and hormonally, you will continue to be as you’ve always been. The only difference will be a lack of sperm in your semen. That’s it. You can now have sex without the added anxiety of accidental procreation. It’s like if, in Bull Durham, Tim Robbins could have made love to Susan Sarandon without it messing up his pitching.
Will you be sterile right away? No. And this is cause for rejoicing. When your stuff is snipped, no more sperm can be carried from the testes to the urethra, where it normally mixes with semen on the way out. But there’s already a backlog of twenty to twenty-five rounds in a storage pouch called the ampulla that need firing before your semen supply will start shooting blanks. (My doctor told me it should take two months, the math of which is very flattering, especially for a dude with two kids.) The only responsible thing to do: Have lots of safe, protected sex.
What happens after a vasectomy
There’s one last step before you know the snip was a success. I was given a card for a company that does post-vasectomy semen analysis–”The Gold Standard Mail-In Kit” emblazoned on the card like Nintendo’s Seal of Quality. They send a cup to you in the mail. In a few months, you send back your “specimen” and they run the numbers. A vasectomy is well over 99 percent effective after a month or two.
Mine? We’ll see. In the days after, my balls went from looking like a chewed-up fig to a small, overripe avocado. Now they’re back to their wrinkled pink selves. I did take a picture of the tool tray before I left. I go into my camera app now and bring up the image. I realize it’s almost the exact opposite of a dick pic: evidence of a penis rendered powerless, it’s very biological imperative made null. Strangely absent are the scissors, despite the symphony of snipping sounds I heard.
All I know is that my wife will soon be off the Pill, her body resuming its rhythms after decades of being held hostage by hormone pills, our sex life cleansed of the terror of unintended consequences.
If my own experience can break the ice–which rested on my newly unproductive scrotum–then perhaps we men can take a more active part in the conversation about sex and reproduction. Even if it means never having a plate of Bolognese again.