Technically speaking, vasectomy is a simple matter of making a tiny cut in the scrotum, picking up the tube on each side that carries sperm (the vas deferens), cutting it and sealing the ends. The whole thing is usually done under a local anesthetic and takes about twenty minutes.

A number of people have misgivings about vasectomy because they have heard all sorts of scary stories about it. One man said, ‘I am worried about it because I want to know where all the sperm go. I can imagine walking around with these balls that look like Zeppelins.’

The sperm that are produced are absorbed directly into the body, and in many cases this prompts the immune system to develop antibodies that attack the sperm as ii they were invading organisms. This may be a factor in unsuccessful vasectomy reversals later on but it does not appear to create any health problems. The rest of the fluid that is produced as part of the ejaculate continues to be released in the normal way. In fact there is no apparent loss of volume of the fluid ejaculated. There has been talk about a possible link between vasectomy and heart disease or cancers like prostate or testicular cancers. Doctors have been looking for harmful side effects of vasectomy for years and a large study recently looked at nearly 30,000 men for twenty years after the operation. They found that it did not increase the risk of any of these diseases over this time period.

Whenever a man has a vasectomy he is encouraged to think of it as permanent. Despite this, up to one in twenty-five men will ask for their vasectomy to be reversed, and many men are hedging their bets by having their sperm frozen and stored before the operation just in case they change their minds later on. Richard is in his late forties. Eight years ago he had a vasectomy. ‘I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would ever want another baby. The vasectomy was great at the time. We didn’t have to worry about contraception at all and it was a real relief for my wife to be able to go off the Pill. Well, to cut a long story short, when I met my second’ wife she said she didn’t care about having children, but she changed her mind. You know, she’s thirty-six and the clock’s started ticking. I thought I would give it a go for her sake.’ So the ‘what ifs’ really can happen.

*56/17/9*

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