When I turned 40, I took stock of my life. I had two great kids, a wonderful wife, and a writing career I love. Everything felt perfect, and I didn't want anything to mess it up -- like an unplanned pregnancy.
My wife, Sue, agreed: Our days of changing diapers were done. But after 18 months of being pregnant, one cesarean, and two years of nursing, she had put her body through quite enough. "Why don't you get a vasectomy?" she asked. I responded like the mature husband and father I had become: I shielded my crotch and shrieked like a baby, "No way!"
But the topic didn't go away. During a camping trip, Sue and I started joking about the procedure with our friends Fred and Julie, who also have two school-age kids and had been having the exact same discussion. Fred had talked with friends who'd gone through the big V and decided it was no biggie, just a simple outpatient procedure that's less costly and complicated than for Julie to have her tubes tied.
I said half-jokingly that it'd be a lot easier to have a vasectomy if we could recuperate somewhere fun. Suddenly I knew I was onto something. What if we turned it into a new guys' ritual, like a bachelor party? We could round up a bunch of dads and combine a Vegas vacation and a vasectomy into...a vasecation. It would start with a night of drinks, gambling, and reminiscing. We'd take turns getting snipped the next day, then mourn and recover together (maybe while watching football on a flat-screen TV) before flying home. It'd be a win-win for husbands and wives. Fred and I were in. Sue and Julie agreed. Now I just had to convince myself -- and the other friends I planned to recruit -- that the whole idea wasn't, well, nuts.
First, I did some research, and quickly discovered that I had tapped into a trend. Vasectomies have increased nationwide by approximately 50 percent during the last year, according to urologists. With concerns about job loss and health insurance, a lot of families simply can't afford the expense of another child. While my motivations weren't financial, knowing I had plenty of company -- in 2006 the National Institutes of Health reported that one out of six men over age 35 had undergone a vasectomy -- made me a lot more comfortable with the idea.
But then I started Googling. Even though I know there's plenty of misinformation on the Web, it was disconcerting when I typed in the word vasectomy and the search yielded phrases such as "permanent discomfort." So I shut down my computer and went for a consultation with Anthony Vasselli, M.D., a urologist in nearby Princeton, New Jersey, who had been recommended by a friend. Dr. Vasselli shook my hand, then began showing me plastic anatomical charts of giant blue penises and yellow spermatozoa. "The testicles are extremely sensitive, as you know," he began. I nodded stoically. He admitted that having a vasectomy would be "psychologically challenging" but, to my relief, not a painful experience.
Then he explained the details. When a man has an orgasm, sperm flow from the epididymis (a small tube inside the testicles) into the semen through two small ducts called the vas deferens. I couldn't help but think of that scene from the Woody Allen movie Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask, where the neurotic sperm chat as they await their journey.
During a vasectomy, the doctor continued, the urologist removes a small portion of vas deferens, cauterizes each end, and then sews them apart so they don't reconnect. Then he spoke the most magical word in the English language: "scalpel-less." While many urologists make an incision in the scrotum during the procedure, an increasing number -- including Dr. Vasselli -- do the job with a puncture hole. There's little difference between the two in discomfort level (which is modest), recovery time (generally less than a week), or cost (about $1,500, which health insurance may cover). But the newer method takes less time to perform and leaves a smaller scar.
For me, avoiding an unkind cut was the clincher. Still, I had questions. What about, um, changes? I was pleased with the way my system worked and didn't want anything to be altered. All would be as it was before, Dr. Vasselli assured me. Erectile dysfunction, a common worry of men considering the surgery, is unrelated to the vas deferens. And since sperm make up less than 1 percent of normal ejaculate, there would be no noticeable difference in my output. In fact, he virtually guaranteed me "more enjoyable sex," free from birth-control intrusions and pregnancy fears. I was sold.
Apparently, I'm not as good a salesman as Dr. Vasselli. A lot of guys simply can't get past the idea of having their manhood somehow reduced. My brother, the dad of a 15-year-old, all but hung up on me when I brought up the vasecation idea. "You know I'm there for you for most things," he said with a nervous laugh, "but not for this."
When I told my buddy Adam about my plan, he called me every few days to try to talk me out of it. "You're making a mistake," he told me. "I feel like it's my duty to save you."
Andy, an old friend who lives in Los Angeles and has two kids, was more receptive. After talking with his wife, he attended a vasectomy-education workshop at a local hospital. But while watching a film about the procedure, he started feeling light-headed, then passed out, awakening to a circle of nurses staring down at him. Andy's wife felt so bad about what had happened that she told him she'd switch from birth-control pills to an IUD. "Dude, I'm out," he told me on the phone. "No vasecation for me."
Now I was down to one vasecation partner, Fred. And, sure enough, he had issues too. "I've been thinking about this," he said, "and I'm not really into the idea of recovering in a hotel room in Vegas. Maybe Hawaii." That sounded nice in theory, but flying 14 hours each way was impractical, and he knew it.
As we spoke, I realized I didn't want to spend all that time and money to get a vasectomy either. When Fred finally admitted that he'd rather just have it done locally, I replied, "Yeah, me too." This wasn't just about saying goodbye to my fertility; it was also about giving up my adolescent fantasies.
So I settled for a mini vasecation the night before my surgery. A couple of pals and I went out for beers, and then we saw The Hangover, a comedy about a bachelor party in Vegas gone horribly wrong. It felt appropriate -- especially the part where the guys woke up and found a tiger in the bathroom. It was time for me to conquer this beast once and for all. And I would do it alone.
Dr. Vasselli delivered as he had promised. I'd say the whole thing was a two out of ten on the pain scale. After a few days of ice packs for the minor swelling and a lot of lolling around watching reruns of The Office, I was back to normal.
My three-month follow-up test confirmed the absence of sperm, and the hassle-free sex promise has proved true enough. Plus, Sue's happy that I took control of our family planning. As for my friends? They're secretly hoping I get them off the hook by telling their wives that it was a terrible experience. Sorry, guys. It wasn't so bad.
Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Parents magazine.
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