A vasectomy for Valentine’s Day
He pulls my scrotum again. I try to suppress a scream, but it leaks out. He says I’m doing great, which really I hope is the truth. I hear a glove snap, and he lays a Starbucks coffee card on my chest.
Welcome to my vasectomy.
Advertised as a "virtually bloodless, virtually painless" procedure, the no-scalpel vasectomy (NSV) has become the go-to procedure for guys looking to halt their baby-making ability in its tracks. The NSV technique uses forceps to punch a hole in the scrotum, allowing access to the vas tubes through the small opening, which sounds pretty uncomfortable…until you browse the vasectomy back catalogue.
Before NSV, men saying sayonara to future fatherhood faced the prospect of being sliced open by a surgeon’s blade—a prospect that always led to stitches and sometimes led to complications. The best you could hope for was a week on the couch with an ice pack, an ice-cold beer, and an ice hockey game, nursing your tender testicle transporter back to health. The risks—including intense post-op pain, internal bleeding, and grapefruit-sized swelling—were enough to put most men off.
I’m in the waiting area, trying not to think about the risks as I tick boxes that confirm I have considered the risks. I skim over complications like scrotal hematoma and sperm granuloma, which sound like death metal bands but are actually painful conditions I don’t want to dwell on. I’m escorted into an operating room and told how to prepare, which consists of exposing myself from the waist down and waiting. I do it.
When Chinese doctor S.Q. Li introduced the NSV technique in 1974, he left a much smaller wound behind—and attracted attention. Eyebrows were raised in 1987 when the King of Thailand hosted a birthday vasectomy party—which is precisely the kind of festivity only a monarch can organize—in which NSV went head-to-head against the scalpel crowd, outperforming the competition in efficiency as well as safety. Today, men who undergo NSV report lower rates of infection, quicker rates of healing, and earlier resumption of sexual activity than those who undergo the incision method.
As a researcher, I pore over studies and scrutinize statistics. So when it was time to move from virile to sterile, I wanted NSV. After our children were born, my wife had an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted, a procedure she found very painful. I told her would be willing to have a vasectomy, as I knew she was dreading another IUD. She said she was thankful I was willing to face the pain of a vasectomy. I countered that it was advertised as "virtually painless". She wondered aloud how that was possible.
It wasn’t until I lay down on the operating table that I noticed the mirror on the ceiling. “Do you have pink champagne on ice?” I joked. “You can’t drink alcohol before the operation,” the nurse replied, missing the "Hotel California" reference. Instead, she offered me a lollypop. I unwrapped the candy while contemplating the easy listening background music. I’d thought about bringing my own music, but was concerned my favourite songs might become tainted, mentally reclassified under My Sterility Soundtrack.
The first time I felt my left testicle being shifted up and over like a manual transmission, I realized it hurt. And that it wasn’t supposed to hurt—I had this fancy no-needle anesthetic to numb me, or at least blunt the pain. I writhed in agony while the nurse held my leg, saying “just a bit of pressure” in a soothing voice. I wondered aloud if perhaps there wasn’t sufficient freezing. The doctor seemed genuinely surprised, and told me that “most guys are basically sleeping through this”.
I had wanted to arrange an appointment for February 14 as an ironic gift to my wife, but I found this date was full. I had expected most men would want to avoid traumatizing their genitals on the most romantic day of the year, but the receptionist explained that February 14 is a Friday, the most popular day to undergo a vasectomy, as one can spend the weekend recovering and still waddle into work Monday. I booked in February 5, which I figured would allow me to recover by Valentine’s Day.
Right now, though, I’m pretty sure I’ll never hump again. He’s tugging my scrotum to the left while trying to reposition my right testicle. I’m pretty sure I smell something burning. I try to go to my "happy place"—Sunday afternoons with the kids, a walk through Stanley Park—but keep returning to that scene in Braveheart where the executioner is cutting out Mel Gibson’s intestines. I resolve to shout "Freedom!" when the operation is complete, but by the time I stumble out of the clinic I realize I have forgotten.