Everything You Need to Know About Vasectomies
Every year in the U.S., roughly half a million men get a vasectomy (a medical procedure that blocks the tubes, or vas deferens, that carry sperm). Why then are so many men still afraid of it? If you ask my husband, there are lots of reasons. While he just recently underwent the non-invasive procedure, it took him months to get there. Apart from the sheer busyness of life, he admits that he was nervous about doing it.
As his wife who carried our babies for nine months and then gave days-long birth to both of them, I thought he was being a tad dramatic. The whole procedure took him less than 30 minutes. (Fine, I’m jealous, OK?) But he’s not alone. “A lot of men just don’t show up to their appointments,” says Dr. Jonathan A. Wu, MD, a urology specialist who works for Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, California.
That’s right, men will make the appointments and then just not show up out of sheer fear. So, why don’t we clear some things up? Here are the most common fears men have about getting a vasectomy that, in reality, don’t add up. Plus, we have some tips on how to make the process that much less intimidating.
Fear: It’s going to hurt.
Reality: It doesn’t. After a quick shave, men get a local anesthetic to numb the area, and they usually only feel a little tugging or pulling.
There is, of course, some pain later when the local anesthesia wears off, but it’s nothing that can’t be cured with an ice pack and some over-the-counter pain medication.
Fear: Recovery takes a long time.
Reality: It takes a few days, maybe a week. Doctors usually recommend that the patient rest following the procedure and avoid heavy lifting for one week. “Every patient heals differently, but I always tell my patients that the easier they take it earlier on, the quicker they will recover,” says Dr. Wu.
The general rule is that after the procedure, a man can go back to work within a few days, and they should feel back to their normal selves in one or two weeks.
Dangerous Side Effects
Fear: You’ll get prostate cancer.
Reality: Getting a vasectomy is not linked to higher odds of getting prostate cancer. In the ’80s and ’90s, reports stated that there may be a connection between vasectomies and prostate cancer. More recently, however, researchers from the Mayo Clinic dug deeper and found that in the results of more than 40 studies, the association between prostate cancer and vasectomies was “weak or nonsignificant.”
“At most, there is a trivial, non-clinically significant association between vasectomy and prostate cancer risk that is unlikely to be causal,” said Bimal Bhindi, M.D., fellow of Urologic Oncology at the Mayo Clinic, in an interview with CURE.
A Sex Thing
Fear: Sex will feel different.
Reality: It feels the same. With the exception of a small scar where an incision was made, everything is exactly as it was.
Sexual functioning is usually unchanged following a vasectomy, according to the American Medical Association. But that’s not all. Most men actually report experiencing enhanced sexual pleasure because they no longer have fears about an unwanted pregnancy.
Fear: You lose some masculinity.
Reality: You don’t. In fact, if you ask me (and probably every other partner out there), taking control of your family planning is one of the best moves a man can make. Sure, it takes two to tango, but before my husband had a vasectomy, all of our forms of birth control were my responsibility.
I didn’t see him popping a pill every day for a decade. And I know I couldn’t have had our children without him, but I carried those kids and I birthed them and I had to recover. Having my husband take control and find ways to avoid having more children in the future is straight-up sexy.
Fear: It won’t work.
Reality: The procedure has a success rate of more than 99 percent. According to a Los Angeles Times article, of every 1,000 men sterilized, fewer than two will cause pregnancy in the first year. My husband’s doctor did tell him that he should ejaculate 25 to 30 times before his follow-up appointment 3 months after the procedure.
During those 3 months, he was cautioned to use another form of birth control to prevent pregnancy because sperm can stay alive in his system. His follow-up appointment was made to confirm that the procedure was successful.
Going Under the Knife
Fear: It’s surgery.
Reality: Yes, it is surgery, but it’s an outpatient procedure. Plus, patients are awake the entire time, and it’s over very quickly.
Vasectomies are rather routine, and according to the American Medical Association, complications from the procedure are rare.
Now that it’s over, my husband can look back and realize he was worried for nothing. “I was relieved after it was over because all of my previous fears I had before the surgery turned out to not be true,” he told me.
When I picked him up after the procedure, he actually got into the passenger seat and said, “Well, that was easy.”
Tip: There’s Strength in Numbers
One thing that helped my husband finally go through with his vasectomy was knowing other people who had also done it. By calling upon his friends and family, he gained the confidence to go through with it himself. If his friends could do it, he could too, right?
He asked them questions about pain and recovery and post-vasectomy sex life. Honest answers from trusted sources helped to ease his mind.
Tip: Consider a 'Brosectomy'
Taking strength in numbers one step further is something called a “brosectomy.” (Yes, it’s a thing.) This is when a group of friends go together to have their vasectomies on the same day and then spend post-op recovering together.
According to an article in The Atlantic, “After getting back-to-back surgeries … they either head to a hotel to recover or spend the rest of the day lazing around the clinic, where they might watch sports or movies, enjoy a decadent dinner and knock back some booze.”
Think of it as a bachelor party with a not-so-fun beginning for married men in their late 30s.
Tip: Participate in Small Talk
My husband gives a lot of credit for his good experience to his care team. He said that both his nurse and doctor had clearly been doing this a long time and were good at keeping him distracted with small talk.
They asked him about his hobbies, his family, his favorite sports teams, etc. — all of which helped to keep his mind focused on anything other than what was actually happening at the moment.
Tip: Take It Easy
“Sometimes, people get back to their usual gym or strenuous work routine too soon, and that can cause more pain and swelling, which prolongs their recovery,” says Dr. Wu.
In other words, be sure to take it easy for a couple of days after the procedure, so you can recover as quickly as possible. If taking time off work is a problem, schedule your procedure on a Friday or during a holiday so that you have those extra days to recover.
Tip: Trust The Numbers
In developed countries, vasectomies are extremely prevalent. In Canada, it’s the most widely used birth control method, accounting for 31 percent of all “modern method” use. An article on IntraHealth states that “The U.K., New Zealand and South Korea have similar profiles, with vasectomy prevalence ranging from 17 percent to 21 percent, comprising 24 percent to 27 percent of modern method use. Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland and the U.S. also have substantial vasectomy use with prevalence ranging from 8 percent to 11 percent.”
In other words, that’s a lot of doctors doing a lot of vasectomies. Any more questions?