Despite various aspects of health care being discussed in the reform bill controversy, including different subjects surrounding abortion and contraception, one subject has not been addressed with respect to contraception: vasectomies. I will not wager a guess as to why that is. Instead, my aim here is to address what a vasectomy is, why it is important, and dispel a few myths about the procedure in the process.
A vasectomy is a surgical procedure designed to make a man sterile by cutting or blocking both the right and left vas deferens, the tubes through which sperm pass into the ejaculate.
Put simply, a vasectomy is a form of permanent birth control for men. There are many different possible reasons a man would consider having a vasectomy - the primary reason being that he doesn't want any (more) children.While a reversal procedure is available (called a vasovasostomy), the decision to undergo a vasectomy procedure is not one to be taken lightly, and should be considered permanent.
When discussing permanent contraception with one's partner, different options should be discussed for the most appropriate form of birth control specific to individual circumstances. If the desired outcome is permanent contraception, there are three choices: permanent abstinence, tubal ligation, or vasectomy. Permanent abstinence, between a committed couple, is neither realistic to expect nor likely to work. Which leaves the latter two choices.
A tubal ligation is also a surgical procedure that effectively sterilizes women. However, when compared with a vasectomy, the expense is far greater, and the risks are higher. A tubal ligation involves "conventional hospitalization, general anesthesia and lengthier, more complicated surgery than a vasectomy" since the majority of tubal ligations are performed laparoscopically (intra-abdominal). It is a procedure that requires "several hours of hospital recovery time and days of recuperation. The potential serious risks with this type of surgery include perforation of the intestine, infection, complications from anesthesia and even pulmonary embolism. Less serious but more frequent are the long-term side effects of tubal ligation. These include painful menstrual cycles, pelvic pain and a controversial complication that is still under study, called "post tubal ligation syndrome.""
By contrast, the vasectomy procedure poses fewer risks, since it is performed on an outpatient basis, completed in less than half an hour with a local anesthetic. There is almost no risk of serious complications and no proven long-term complications to vasectomy. There are some minor risks and possible complications, which include sperm granuloma formation, sperm congestion (causing soreness), epididymitis, sperm antibody development -- and two very rare possible complications are vas deferens reconnection and long-term testicular discomfort.
So why is there ever a question, given the two choices? Unfounded fears and myths surrounding the idea of vasectomies.
Myth Number One. Having a vasectomy will make me less of a man.
Fact: Having the testicular fortitude to spare your partner an unnecessary surgery fraught with possible complications actually makes you more of a man. Further, sperm does not a man make anyway. All that is affected by the surgical procedure is sperm's ability to make its way out of the body. That's it. Sperm production continues regardless of the procedure.
Myth Number Two. Having a vasectomy will impact my ability to have sex.
Fact: A vasectomy does not affect your ability to obtain or maintain an erection, nor does it inhibit orgasms. You will still be able to enjoy sex as before, and your semen will not look any different than before the procedure.
Myth Number Three. A vasectomy increases my chances of having other sexual health problems.
Fact: A vasectomy has no bearing on any other aspect of sexual health. Some men wrongly believe that vasectomies have caused prostate cancer or heart diseases. Medical studies have debunked this myth. However, one important key to bear in mind is that while having a vasectomy is permanent contraception, it does nothing to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
Myth Number Four. A vasectomy will decrease my libido.
Fact: Only for the days immediately following the procedure, and this decrease in libido has nothing to do with male hormones. Rather, after any surgical procedure, mild discomfort lowers anyone's sex drive - but that is temporary. In the case of vasectomy, temporary means a few days. That's it. Beyond that, a vasectomy has no impact whatsoever on male hormone levels. This means that hair distribution, voice depth, and yes, sex drive remains the same following the procedure.
Myth Number Five. A vasectomy will improve my relationship.
Fact: If there were problems before the vasectomy, chances are there will be problems afterward. A vasectomy is not a relationship solver - it is a form of permanent contraception only. The only part of your life that a vasectomy alters is your physical ability to father a child. Relationship issues are beyond the scope of the surgical procedure, and your better bet is to visit a relationship counselor for that.
An important point to remember about a vasectomy is that following the procedure, some active sperm does remain in the system, and will require time and numerous ejaculations before your semen examination shows clear of sperm. During the interim until the sperm count is eliminated, a secondary form of contraceptive is strongly suggested.
None of this is intended to replace consulting your physician. If you are considering a vasectomy, discuss the matter with your doctor. Your doctor can recommend and/or refer you to a urologist.
Med Terms, 2009. Vasectomy.
Post Tubal Ligation Syndrome, 2008.
Charles E. Shapiro, M.D., et al., 2004. Vasectomy: Permanent Birth Control for Men.
Surgery Encyclopedia, 2009. Tubal ligation, Vasovasostomy.
Vas Centers, 2002. Tubal Ligation vs. Vasectomy