A sharp implement is about to cut off my life force and yet I’m not screaming for mercy or repenting. And when the nice nurse asks me, for the third time, whether I’d like to change my mind, I meekly shake my head and submit myself to the vasectomy I’ve been avoiding, and dreading, for years. All I can think is, thank God I’m being sedated for this.
Going for the local, as a staggering 60 per cent of Australian blokes do when it comes to vasectomies was never going to be an option for me. Largely, but not entirely, because I’m a wuss.
I was worried about the pain, mostly, if I were forced to justify my reluctance. But there was also something deeper, intangible, a fear I couldn’t put my finger on, but certainly one I could wrap my hand around.
So why did I want to do it at all? Because my wife, who can easily remember all of my many faults, and list them, probably in alphabetical order, sometimes struggled to remember to take a single pill each day, which was almost terrifying enough for me. But then she decided it was time to stop taking it altogether – now that we had two children – and pointed out there was another way.
This may also have been around the first time I heard it argued that having a vasectomy is the least a man can do, after all his partner has been through to produce his children. It’s something that came up a lot, after I finally talked myself into having one (partly because I wanted to write about it – journalists are weird people).
Changing your mind, even at the last minute, is not uncommon, according to Dr Justin Low – one of Australia’s most prolific snippers and the national lead vasectomist at Marie Stopes Australia – a man known to his friends as “the ball whisperer”.
“We’ve had guys come in after 10 years of not quite getting around to it, they’ve had three more kids than they wanted to in that time, but they kept putting it off,” he chuckles.
So, what is it we’re so afraid of?
“I think there are two barriers, and the first is the whole ‘protect-your-balls’ thing,” Low postulates. “It’s just a natural thing for men to want to protect that area, so they have this fear about the pain.”
For other guys, he says, there’s the masculinity barrier – if I’m sterile, that’s my seed, that’s my masculinity, that’s who I am, I won’t be a man any more. “But I think that’s changing, because it is totally unfounded,” Low adds. “Plus, there are studies showing sexual frequency and the experience of sex are better after vasectomy.”
There is one more strange, and typically male, reason why some blokes just won’t countenance the idea, as explained to me by a colleague, James, 44.
“The big thing is that, like all men, I like to keep my options open. You look at Richard Gere (having another baby at age 68 with this 35-year-old wife) and you think, ‘Yeah, maybe, one day, you never know.’”
Low has, of course, had a vasectomy himself. “What you feel afterwards is just a dull ache. It’s exactly like in footy, if you ever got a knock down there. It’s what it feels like one or two days after that – it’s not like the initial smash in the balls. It’s just a little bit of awareness, and Panadol does the job,” he claims, cheerily.
The good news is I can report that the procedure itself is, er, a snip. No pain, no memories, in and out in less than an hour. The recovery, however, is not, for me at least, a doddle. Low tells me that, for about 90 per cent of men, there’s a bit of dull aching for a day or two, and that’s it. I fear I might have fallen into the other 10 per cent.
Happily, everything did eventually return to normal service. I’m now seeing out what will hopefully be my final months of using contraception. Forever. I, too, may well look back on all this as one of the best things I’ve ever done.
If you live in a regional or remote area it’s probably going to be your local GP who will have to help, and it’s likely to be done with local anaesthetic only, though Marie Stopes does have clinics in Rockhampton and Townsville.
Urologists can conduct the procedure, and prices vary. At Marie Stopes, the procedure costs around $690 with sedation (or $630 with a local) after Medicare, and with private health insurance you will generally only pay your hospital excess. The best way to start is to get a ‘precare’ appointment either with your GP or at a specialist family planning organisation. These conversations can often be had over the phone, without the need to physically visit a clinic.