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The Snip

August 27, 2009

(About men, fertility and privileged experiences with medical care.)

“You’ll have to make the appointment for him,” she said. That was not going to happen.

My spouse heard this several times from several other married women. When they and their husbands were done having kids, they had concluded that the most sensible long-term contraception was vasectomy. That’s an easy conclusion to reach. It’s not really a big deal at all. Yet for some reason that they could not or would not articulate, these men all dragged their heels. They had to be pushed, prodded and handheld through a medical decision that they reasoned to but about which they felt a nameless unease.

That was not how we were going to handle things. I made a medical decision about my fertility; carrying it out was my responsibility. I got recommendations for two surgeons, I called both. One had just moved to set up a small town practice, and I made arrangements with the other.

We sat down in his office. My spouse wasn’t there. I told her she could come if she wanted but she didn’t need to. She told me later that it was important to her that I did this alone without the slightest suggestion of prodding, because of that assumption that guys drag their heels until their wives make them do it. She missed all the fun.

I’m a litigator, so I make doctors nervous to start with. And it wouldn’t be true to say I don’t like doctors — some I like very much. But it would be true to say I’m tough on doctors. I don’t have any sense of deference to them. They are degreed professionals, I’m a degreed professional. They went to school, I went to school. They’re smart people, I’m smart people. My clients expect me to explain to them why they should do what I’m recommending and … some doctors still seem a little surprised that their clients want to probe behind the headlines. And I expect the same kind of equal-footing discussion with doctors as clients have with lawyers.

So this surgeon started to ask questions that, I got the sense, are so standard he doesn’t think about them. He wanted to make sure I had thought this through, make sure I knew that I should not count on reversal which is possible but not reliable. He wanted to know why I was doing this, not (it seemed clear) because he cared, but to make sure I had really made up my mind and was clear about my decision. I was. I told him I had all the children that I wanted, all that I thought I could raise, and that for various reasons having to do with their early years I was not emotionally capable of going through the baby phase with another one.

(I can’t look at my child in a plexiglass case in a NICU again. I can’t do it again. I don’t have it in me, and if I had to, I couldn’t be the spouse or parent that I need to be. And I know that.)

So far, so good. I’ve heard stories about doctors stonewalling women, particularly those with no children, who want a permanent fertility solution. This was not that. This was a responsible inquiry.

Then, with no apparent thought to the question, he asked me, “and your wife is on board with this?”

I’m making a decision about my fertility. I’m done.”

It was a point about bodily autonomy. My body is not my spouse’s. It is neither her responsibility, nor her property. This is, of course, is the sort of thing privilege shields me from. Cis- het- men’s rights to control our own bodies, especially when we’re affluent and white, is something usually unchallenged. Something usually unquestioned. Something we can usually take for granted. So much so that this affluent white man sitting across from me didn’t think he was challenging it; much less that I’d call him out on it.

He pressed, and I said, “If I said no, would you refuse to do the procedure?”

He demurred. “I’d want to know more about what was going on.”

I had made my point, shaken his routine assumption, questioned the premise of the question. I told him it was my decision but my spouse was on board.

I had a few questions, ones I’m sure he hears all the time. He said I would probably have no sperm in my ejaculate after eight orgasms. I said, “so maybe two days, then?” He didn’t laugh. Either I had rattled him or he has no sense of humor. I’m still not sure which of those things is true.

I did have one question that I know wasn’t on the standard menu. “So my wife and I do a lot of BDSM, and squeezing and slapping testicles is a big part of our intimate conduct. How long until we can resume that activity?”

“BD …? I’m sorry, I don’t recognize the acronym you used …”

It was my turn to be surprised. This is New York — really, Doc? BDSM? Never heard of it? Okay. I explained.

I explained, because some day some other guy is going to be sitting in that chair. And he’s going to need to have a frank talk with this same surgeon about what he does with his penis and testicles. And he may not be as affluent or as educated, or straight or married or cis-sexual. He (or she or ze — lots of folks need to see a urologist) may be in a less privileged, more vulnerable position than I am in any number of ways. Or he may just not be as comfortable with what he does with his sex partners. Any way you slice it, I could just abstain from ball-smacking until I felt ready, but I’d rather have a straight answer from the doctor, and damnit, if he’s going to have to have an awkward conversation with some kinkster, let him do it the first time with me. I don’t bruise easily.

Credit where it’s due. He looked a little … nonplussed, but he gave me a direct answer. “I would say wait two weeks. After that the scrotum should be fully healed.” I’m sure he had a story to tell at lunch. And maybe some things to think about.

I sure did.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2009 5:52 pm

    I understand that a vasectomy can be very painful. So, on that basis alone, I give you mad props. Vasectomy isn’t something I think much about. After all, I am a female, single, never-married, and it’s not something that’s part of my life experience at the moment. So, I appreciate your candor and eloquence. I also appreciate the way in which you interacted with the doctor. One would assume that given socio-economics and geography, the doc should have been more ‘hip’. But, even someone with four plus years of education beyond the bachelor’s degree can be quite ignorant. So, you taught the doc a great deal on that particular day.

  2. George (Newbe) permalink
    September 28, 2009 3:22 am

    I suspect the male anti-vasectomy stance is ‘biological programming’ if you will. This is an area where reason needs to overcome the compulsion to over populate. “But honey, you don’t want any more children, do you?” runs up against fantasies of eternal youth and delusions of endless credit limits. A great book on the human condition, called Kluge, explains that evolution selects what works, it does not design what is best. As we all know, a tribe of one male and ten females has a better chance of surviving long term than does a tribe of ten males and one female. And there were likely many times in our collective ancient past when that situation presented itself, because the males tended to kill one another off. Natural selection then resulted in a biological programming that facilitated survival in those times; and so the male tendency to protect his ability to over populate survives today, with some gusto I might add. This hangover from ancient times results in things like 90 year old Afghan tribal chiefs having six or seven nine year old brides. This is not good. Natural is often not good or attractive.

    BTW: I am a fan of female empowerment and a foe of violence in all it’s forms, blatant or subtle. When confronted, I may or may not react in the most helpful manner. Children can not defend themselves physically or psychologically from passion driven aggression. And there was a time, long long ago, when passion driven aggression in it’s many forms helps this species survive. We are not the devils who invaded Eden. But we are little devils seeking to establish an Eden which never before existed save for our dreams and ambitions.

    Good luck with this work, and I hope I can contribute.

    George (a newbie here)

    PS: “vasectomy can be very painful” like a flesh piercing for an earring or worse? Opinions from men who have had both would serve us well here.

  3. C.H. permalink
    October 6, 2009 5:37 pm

    LOL! This sounds like exactly what my unhusband went through 10 years ago. We aren’t married and I did drive him to the appointment under the theory he wouldn’t want to drive himself home. I was waiting downstairs and the doctor sent him to find me to ask me if I was okay with him not making anymore babies. I was beyond pissed. One, you just violated his confidential medical information, I may not have known why he was there and two, given that no spousal consent is necessary and I am not his spouse what the hell are you asking me for??

  4. Jordan permalink
    October 14, 2009 12:43 am


    As someone who has piercings and recently got a vasectomy, I’d say that the latter is a lot closer to getting teeth pulled. With the right amount of anesthetic, you don’t feel too much during the procedure, but it’s kind of uncomfortable and it might take a while to heal up entirely.


    Did your doctor not tell you about the risk of hematomas? It’s been about four weeks and the ones from my vasectomy haven’t entirely gone away. Definitely something he should have mentioned when you asked about the healing process. Also, do you have a follow-up to check sperm count? I wouldn’t trust that everything is clear until that. Otherwise it sounds like you had a good, albeit a bit awkward, experience.

  5. leanne permalink
    July 24, 2010 11:56 am

    iv een trying for a baby 3 yrs with no sucess every test for me came back normal including scans of ovries ect then i partner did a test for sperm count which cum back bieng lighter blue than the test strip meaning negative, he told me he wanted the snip 4 years ago im convinced he has had even tho i cant find any scars and he was prepared to take the test he has 3 children and our son is 3 and half now wot do u reckon

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