Time for a vasectomy?
Sharon Ní Chonchúir finds that understanding of vasectomies is lacking — one in ten men think the procedure involves the removal of their testicles
MILLIONS of us take the pill, use condoms, or intrauterine devices such as the coil. But how many have considered the more permanent solution of vasectomy?
According to research carried out by Irish Life Health in January, 8% of Irish men have already undergone vasectomies while a further 28% would consider having the procedure at some point in the future.
“8% is about average by international standards but that figure could be higher,” says Dr Philip Kieran from RTÉ’sYou Should Really See a Doctor.
“The traditional view is that women look after contraception but men could take on more of that responsibility and there comes a point in most long-term relationships where this can happen.”
The Irish Life Health research shows that this time seems to be when a man is 40 years old and already has two children.
“On average, this is when they decide they have had enough children and are happy to take responsibility for contraception,” says Dr Kieran.
Following a successful vasectomy, there is a one-in-3,000 chance of a pregnancy, which makes it the most effective form of contraception currently available. So why are so few men getting vasectomies?
The research shows several reasons for this. Some 21% think it’s too permanent, 19% fear it would affect their sex lives, 27% simply don’t understand what’s involved, and 10% think the procedure involves the removal of their testicles.
“It’s no wonder there is such a low rate of vasectomy if one in ten men believe it means removal of a part of their anatomy,” says Dr Kieran. “We need to dispel some of these myths.”
Vasectomy is a minor surgical procedure, which involves a small cut being made in the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis. That cut is then sealed. This is all carried out under a local anaesthetic and is over within 15-30 minutes.
The procedure is usually carried out in a GP’s office. “It used to be done by urologists but now trained GPs can do it,” says Dr Kieran. “Men are in and out in a matter of minutes.”
The idea of the pain involved is another factor that puts men off having a vasectomy. “There’s a minimal amount of pain and it’s more discomfort. The vast majority of men are back to normal within 24 to 48 hours.”
Cost shouldn’t be a deterrent either. The average cost of the procedure is €400 to €600, which compares well with the long-term costs of other contraceptive methods.
One in five of the men interviewed by Irish Life Health worried that a vasectomy would have a negative impact on their virility. Dr Kieran reassures them that this is not the case.
won’t have any effect on your libido or your ability to ejaculate or maintain an erection. The evidence actually shows the opposite. All a vasectomy does is stop the sperm from leaving the body and seeing as sperm makes up less than 1% of what a man ejaculates, you shouldn’t notice any difference at all.”
In fact, according to the Evaluation of Male Sexual Satisfaction after Vasectomy study published in 2010, most men report an increase in their sex drive as they no longer need to worry about contraception.
Another 2010 study looked at 3,390 Australian men and found that men who had undergone vasectomies were just as sexually satisfied as men who had not.
In the past, it was claimed that having a vasectomy increased the risk of prostate cancer. This has also been disproven.
A total of 84,753 men from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition provided information on vasectomy status and were followed for 15 years. It found that there was no elevated risk for prostate cancer in men who had undergone vasectomies compared with men who had not.
The only valid reason that should prevent a man from having a vasectomy is the procedure’s permanence. “They can be reversed in theory, but the actual success rates are very low, be“It tween 10% and 19%,” says Dr Kieran. “I tell my clients to consider it permanent. If they have any doubts about whether they have enough children or whether they might want to have more children with another partner in the future, then a vasectomy is not for them.”
Vasectomies were a popular form of contraception 20 years ago when a couple decided their family was complete. “It’s hard to know what has happened to make vasectomies fall out of fashion in the meantime,” says Dr Kieran. “But when you think about it, we didn’t discuss any of this 40 years ago and 20 years ago there was probably something of a rebound effect in that we were just beginning to discuss sexual and contraceptive matters. A vasectomy was also a newer procedure then. It’s slipped off people’s radars in the years since then, which is why 62% of Irish men now say there is a low awareness of it in Ireland.”
Dr Kieran believes it’s important people know how quick and easy getting a vasectomy can be and how effective it is as a form of contraception. “Men need to be encouraged to talk about this stuff. A vasectomy could be a good option for a lot of men out there, if only they understood more about the procedure.”
NIP TUCK: Dr Phi Kieran at the launch of Irish Life Health’s vasectomy awareness campaign, in The Grafton Barber, Arnotts department store, alongside barber Stephen Power.