Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vasectomies and family politics...

I know it's two days before Christmas and I should probably be writing about the holiday season, but I've got something on my mind this morning.  Yesterday, I was on a messageboard for recovering Mormons and someone asked for thoughts about vasectomies.  It seems that she and her husband had recently fallen away from the LDS church and, having already had two children, no longer felt the need to have a huge family.  Her husband had grown up in a big family and didn't really want to have more children.  She, on the other hand, wasn't sure if she was "done" having kids.

The topic of vasectomies always hits me close to home.  My husband had a vasectomy when he was married to his ex wife.  He did so because she apparently had a lot of problems being pregnant... it was "hard" on her.  They had two daughters plus her son from another marriage.  They were poor and the military would do the surgery for free.  So even though he wasn't even 30 years old, my husband got snipped.  Just a few years later, they divorced and he married me, a woman in her 30s with no children.  My husband's ex wife, on the other hand, married a younger man and has since had two more kids.  So much for pregnancy being too "hard" on her.

I've always wanted to be a mother and had always assumed I would be.  But the man I fell in love with had surrendered to family politics and went under the knife.  When we got married, I knew my dreams of motherhood might never come true, especially since we started our marriage pretty poor.  Luckily, two years after we tied the knot, an Army doctor reversed my husband's vasectomy free of charge.  It was technically successful, but we still don't have kids.  At this point, I'm okay with that.  I'm getting too old for kids anyway.  Besides, beagles are easier to live with.

The topic of vasectomies and the relentless pressure some people put on men to have them is still one of my hot button issues.  In the wake of our experience, I've come to a few conclusions.  First off, I recognize that it's basically a harmless, painless procedure.  However, I also recognize that like any medical procedure, a vasectomy can pose risks.  In the thread I was reading about vasectomies, one man commented that his sex drive had changed noticeably for the worse after he'd gotten snipped.  A regular female poster on the board commented that the poster obviously didn't know what he was talking about.  In very simple terms, she described what the vasectomy procedure entails and said that obviously, his issues couldn't stem from having had a vasectomy.

At that point, I jumped in and said that I'd found a Web site  called Don't Fix It, created by a man who had undergone a vasectomy and regretted it.  I commented that I wasn't necessarily agreeing with the man who had created the Don't Fix It site and written an accompanying book, but I thought he presented a viewpoint worth considering.  I came back later to find that the poster had dismissed the man's experiences, claiming that he's ignorant about physiology and spreading lies about a perfectly "harmless" procedure.

Well... that comment pissed me right off.  Even if Mr. Don't Fix It is ignorant about physiology, he obviously had a vasectomy and regretted it.  Even if most men have vasectomies and never look back, that's not indicative of every man's experience.  And the men who have not had a good time of it after getting snipped deserve to be heard as much as the men who are satisfied with their results.  After doing a perfunctory search last night, I found more anecdotes written by men who had experienced physical problems and pain after having been snipped.  Is it the norm?  Probably not, but I think anyone who is considering having surgery, particularly an entirely elective one like a vasectomy, should do their homework and make sure they know about all the risks, even the highly unlikely ones.

Secondly, I think a lot of men have vasectomies because they feel pressured by family politics.  The woman decides she's done having kids.  She doesn't want to fool with birth control anymore.  It's cheaper and easier for the man to be sterilized than the woman, so naturally, he should be the one to "man up", as it were, and get himself fixed, right?  But hold on a minute.  A vasectomy is a surgical procedure carried out on a man's most private parts.  What woman wouldn't be offended if her spouse told her he expected her to have an elective procedure on her private parts?  I gather most women would be horrified if a man demanded that she get a tubal ligation.  And yet, a lot of women think nothing at all about demanding that her husband get snipped.  Some of them hold up the prospect of not having sexual intercourse as the "carrot" to get the man to comply.

I think the decision whether or not to have a vasectomy should be entirely the man's decision.  We women get very upset when a man dares to demand that a woman have an abortion.  What makes us think we have the right to demand something just as personal of our men?  It's the man's body and ultimately, the man has to live with the results.  He may be very happy with them or he may not.  But if things don't turn out okay and he felt coerced into having the procedure, don't think he won't feel some resentment for having been pressured.  Maybe you don't care about his feelings... but some other woman probably will.

Thirdly, it really annoys me when someone presumes to know how other people think or feel.  We all get one body and one mind.  Not even the world's most gifted physician can know what it feels like to be me.  And I have no earthly idea what it feels like to be someone else.  I only know my body, but I know it better than anyone else on the planet.  Likewise, a man who has had a vasectomy and experiences pain or a lowered sex drive would know better than anyone what that feels like for him.  Just because the vast majority of men don't have that experience, that doesn't invalidate the experience of the man who does.  I think that thought could apply to anyone in any situation.  I know how I feel when I eat chocolate or see the color blue.  My experience is valid, but so is that of the person sitting next to me.

The bottom line is that any man who is considering having an elective surgical procedure like a vasectomy should absolutely be the one who makes the final decision to do so.  And he should make that decision after learning the facts.  I know many men who have had a vasectomy and never regretted it.  I've also known several men who have had vasectomies and later had them reversed... and the reversal surgery is a lot more complicated and expensive than a vasectomy is, not to mention less successful.  And yes, there are also a few men out there who have had vasectomies and are pleased to be sterile, but now have to deal with pain and an altered sex drive.

Ladies, let your men be the ones who decide whether or not they get snipped.  You'd want him to give you the same courtesy.  

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