Family Life


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Cutting to the chase: Is getting a vasectomy right for you?

There comes a time in every responsible parent’s life when they must decide whether to continue to add to the world’s population.You may have initial visions of grandeur and want to field your own genetic basketball team, but most of us eventually settle on a brood of two or three for a few reasons—raising children is hard work, we don’t have an endless supply of bedrooms in our houses and our salaries only stretch so far. 

It’s at this point that men start to get a little queasy. Up until now, our goal has been to impregnate our partners and if that meant having sex to the point of exhaustion or beyond, well, we were prepared to step up and perform our duty. No need to thank us.

But doing our part for permanent birth control—getting a vasectomy, that is—is an altogether different ball game (excuse the pun), because it requires us to do the exact opposite of what our instincts have been telling us pretty much since we were toddlers: Protect the family jewels at all costs. This instinct is particularly acute when there are sharp medical utensils in the vicinity.

Over the years, you develop an expertise and flexibility you never thought possible to avoid getting hit ‘down there’. There is a period of innocence, until about toddlerhood, when the jewels are essentially protected from virtually all foreign objects by diapers.

But once you’ve made the leap to cartoon-themed underwear, it’s just a matter of time until some kid whacks you south of the equator with a plastic light sabre, the toilet plunger or some fluffy cotton balls, just to see you scream without making any sound.

Dr. Errol Billinkoff, a man who has performed thousands of vasectomies at his Winnipeg clinic for more than a decade, says men have to get over their phobias. After all, their wives were the ones giving birth, not them.

He says the procedure, which takes less than 30 minutes start to finish, is the only foolproof method (besides the foolhardy option of abstinence) of ensuring your family tree won’t grow any more branches.

“Most guys say it’s easier than going to the dentist,” he says. What? Do the rest of his patients have mouths full of wooden teeth?

In a nutshell, a vasectomy is surgery that interrupts the flow of sperm in the vas deferens and essentially ensures that the patient shoots blanks for the rest of his sexual life. Woman can have a tubal ligation (most commonly referred to as getting one’s tubes tied), but unlike a vasectomy, it’s not 100 percent effective and the only way to tell it didn’t work is when another pregnancy test comes back positive. It’s also a major surgical procedure, Billinkoff says.

He says men have enough semen already built up that it will take 20 ejaculations or three months, whichever comes first, for a sample to determine whether a vasectomy was a success. 

I went in for my vasectomy a couple of years ago, confident that my wife, Megan and I, were making the right decision. We were blessed with two healthy children, Megan wanted to start teaching again and, perhaps most important, she threatened me with separate bedrooms if I continued with my line of reasoning that taking this step wasn’t fair to my next wife.

The no-scalpel vasectomy requires a small puncture in the scrotum, from which both vas deferens tubes are lifted out with a special tool. Billinkoff describes them as being like a cable, with an outer sheath and an inner tube.
After a pair of freezing needles, he cuts open the outer layer, lifts out the inner tube and cuts out a short piece. He then cauterizes the top end, leaves the bottom end alone and then drops them both back inside the sheath, applying a clip on to the sheath in the space between the two ends so they never reconnect.

Apart from the small plumes of smoke that arose during the two cauterizings—what’s that smell? I thought, only to realize to my horror that it was my own flesh—the 10-minute procedure was pretty uneventful. If only he could have frozen my brain at the same time.

As painful as that last bit may have been to read, Billinkoff says most men make too big a deal out of a vasectomy. In fact, current procedures are decidedly better than they were a couple of decades ago. Prior to the discovery of the no-scalpel method and the development of procedure—specific tools by a Chinese doctor in the 1970s, patients required incisions on both sides of the scrotum and the surgeon ‘fished around’ for the tubes with, from what I could gather, the medical equivalent of barbecue tongs.

“It doesn’t affect sexual performance or the libido, your voice doesn’t get any higher and it doesn’t make you any less of a man,” says Billinkoff, who had a vasectomy of his own several years ago and, while he won’t be mistaken for Darth Vader, has a strong, deep voice.

“But it’s surgery, just like any surgery. It’s the guys who play squash the day of their vasectomy that run the risk of getting sore or infected.”

That wasn’t a problem for me. My immediate instinct was to spend the next two days on the couch with a bag of frozen peas on my lap. You know, protecting the family jewels.

Originally published in 2008.

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