I Had A Vasectomy

Brain Yapping by Dr Dean Burnett

I had a vasectomy. It was actually a good laugh.

Back in 2017, I had a vasectomy. Here’s what happened.

How my vasectomy went (a.k.a. A Tale of Two Testes)

My vasectomy happened in a local GPs clinic. I was conscious the entire time. I was in and out in less than an hour.

I was prepared for all this. Friends and acquaintances who’ve had vasectomies themselves told me about it.

What I didn’t know was that it’s compulsory, in my NHS trust at least, to take a dose of Valium, the famous benzodiazepine, before the vasectomy. It’s  common practice; if you’re having a surgical procedure while fully awake, you’d need to remain as still and calm as possible. That’s tricky for many people, given the whole ‘surgical procedure while awake’ aspect. So, I took a Valium, with its potent calming, sedative effects.

However, I’m lucky enough to have avoided any notable mental health issues in my life (thus far), so have never taken psychoactive medication before, certainly never anything as potent as Valium.

Strong stuff, isn’t it? I know the effects can differ from person to person, but it certainly had an impact on me.

My procedure was at 9:30am, I was to take a Valium tablet 45 mins beforehand. So, my wife took the kids to school. While she was out, I took a Valium.

She returned 10 minutes later, to find me stood in the front room, unmoving, staring into space. When asked if I was OK, my wary response was;

“The wall was looking at me weirdly”.

My wife nodded and said I should get my coat while slowly backing away. As I pulled my coat on, I got distracted again.

“Have my hands always been this shape?” I asked. Thankfully, wife ignored that and told me to get in the car.

“Want me to drive?” I said, helpfully. My wife categorically said that she did not.

It was a short drive to the clinic, but that didn’t stop me from going “Wheeeeeee!” like a small child on a roundabout whenever the car went fast.

We arrived at the clinic and were directed to the empty waiting room. Apparently, there were only two vasectomies booked for that day. Mine was second. The previous one was just finishing up.

Five minutes later the previous couple walked out, past us. The man was walking normally, but turned and saw me, realised I was ‘next in line’, and suddenly adopted and exaggerated limping gait, like his genitals had just been savaged by a Doberman. His agonized expression would have been more convincing if he hadn’t been laughing.

I was angry at this, but only because, in my Valium-induced state, I was miffed that I wouldn’t get to make that joke myself. I just gave him the finger and muttered that he was an arsehole.

We were then called in to the clinic, where the doctor and nurse were waiting for me. I disrobed from the waste down, hopped onto the table, and let them ‘get to work’.

The doctor and nurse were friendly and chatted to me the whole time. It was probably the Valium, but them doing this while poking around in my nether regions gave the whole experience a surreal, dream-like quality, something only enhanced by them having Magic FM playing on the radio, and the sight of my wife sat in the corner, doing a sudoku.

Upon administering the anaesthetic, the doctor asked “Is that comfortable?”

“To the extent that a stranger inserting a needle into my scrotum can be described as ‘comfortable’, yes, it is” was my response. Again, Valium is potent.

We have chosen this stock image rather than one of a needle going into a scrotum.

The rest of it was mostly just me laying there as they did their job, while occasionally engaging me in conversation about the weather or my holiday plans, like a barber who has wildly misunderstood his remit.

Eventually. I said “Is this an appropriate song for this situation?” as Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ came on the radio. This prompted a lengthy discussion about the worst possible playlist for a vasectomy. The nurse got in early with ‘Great Balls of Fire’, while the doctor’s best suggestion was Leona Lewis’s ‘Bleeding Love’. What larks.

The only moment of concern for me was towards the end. A vasectomy is a very straightforward procedure, and is as non-invasive as possible. It involves making small holes in the scrotum and permanently sealing the vas deferens, the tubes that carry sperm to the ejaculate. Many people refer to having your tubes ‘tied’, but these days they’re likely to be ‘sealed’, surgically scorched with an infrared laser. That’s what was done to me. It was fine.

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But, when the doctor is using said laser, it emits a beep, so you know it’s active. And when he was finishing, he used the laser for a long period, meaning it emitted a long, drawn-out beep. This is when I panicked, and said;

“I’ve seen ER, I know that sound, does that mean I’m dead?!?” The nurse promised me I wasn’t dead, and I found that reassuring.

I really must stress how potent Valium is.

That was it, then. I got to go home and ‘come down’, as they say. I spent the next couple of days mostly sitting down, taking the occasional ibuprofen, and dodging my two-year-old daughter’s attempts to give me a high-speed groin-high hug. After that, it’s been plain sailing ever since.

…Why tell you this?

I tell you this because surprisingly-intimate tale because, in the latest issue of the Observer, regular contributor Stuart Heritage explained why he keeps planning on having a vasectomy, but never going through with it. It’s not the first time he’s written about this, so he’s consistent.

I don’t know Heritage, I have no beef with him, and I’d never presume to tell him what he should or shouldn’t do with his own reproductive system. But nonetheless, Heritages article(s), however tongue-in-cheek or well-intentioned, can only help entrench and normalise the fact that contraception is invariably seen as a woman’s responsibility, with us men barely ever pulling our weight.

I’ve met so many guys who think it should be the default norm for a woman to take constant pills that interfere with her hormone cycle, or have a metal-leaking coil implanted directly into her womb, or some other actually-quite-invasive procedure.

Yet these are often the same guys who refuse to use condoms because they’re “not comfortable”. Anything else you’d like, fellas? Want your ladies to warm up your ice cream lest it hurt your teeth? Does your shoulder ache from wiping your own arse? Perhaps you can get your female partner to take care of that too. Can’t have you not being ‘comfortable’, can we.

In his defence, he does flag this up, stating how men get a “free ride” in the contraception department, and includes passages like;

“…either I get a vasectomy, or we wait it out for the menopause. Which would be ideal for me, frankly, but a little selfish.”


“For as long as I’ve known her, my wife has been the one hurling herself into different hormonal tornadoes in the name of contraception. One pill made her gain weight. Another gave her crashing bursts of depression. An IUD resulted in bacterial vaginosis. And all the while I just stood by, secretly pleased that none of it was happening to me. Surely it’s time for me to take one for the team.”

But the thing is, despite all this highlighting of the pressures and issues faced by his wife, the whole point of the article is that he still refuses to get a vasectomy, citing the possible things that could go wrong, the pain that might result.

How many men who are considering a vasectomy will have now been put off by Heritage’s piece(s)? How many will have seen their own fears and concerns echoed, and therefore justified, in print? Frankly, one is too many. Hence, I decided to share my own story of when I actually went and did it, and how weirdly amusing the whole thing was.

I know, everyone and their circumstances differ, and I confess that getting a vasectomy wasn’t a difficult decision for me. My wife and I have two beautiful children we love more than anything, but we both feel that’s enough. The ‘correct’ number of children to have varies from person to person, but for us, two is it.

Pictured children are not Dean’s. They are two children who’s parents let them be stock images for probably no more than £100.

And regarding who would be the one to actually get themselves ‘fixed’? I always assumed it would be me. Remember, two children. Even in the best of circumstances, the physical burden of pregnancy and childbirth is substantial. My wife has gone through that, twice! If it was anyone’s turn to have their reproductive system medically manipulated, it was mine.

To make her go through it yet again, purely for my convenience, just seemed, I don’t know… ludicrous? It was the least I could do. That is, the least after “nothing at all”, which is an option a bleak number of men still prefer.

And yes, I’ve heard all the arguments against it.

“What if it hurts?”

Well, it did, a bit. Having anaesthetic injected into your scrotum isn’t exactly fun, but it hurts less than getting it caught in the zipper of your jeans, I can promise you. After that, it all just ‘goes away’ down there, like you’ve been cast in the Cats movie.

And yes, there’s a few days of ache and tenderness afterwards. But if that’s a dealbreaker for you, presumably you never play sports or get hammered on a night out? Because exactly the same applies to these activities, and most men never shy away from those.

“What if something goes wrong?”

Well, it might. That’s just medicine for you, sorry. Vasectomies can go wrong, and cause discomfort and distress, albeit only in the very rare worst-case scenarios.

But, do you know what else that applies to, only orders-of-magnitude more so? Childbirth. Even with all of our modern medical advances, your wife at partner is at far greater risk of serious health damage (or worse) when giving birth to a baby, than you ever will be from having your plums professionally de-seeded.

If that’s not important to you, then I seriously question your priorities.

“What if you change your mind later?”

The NHS at least has taken this into account. You need to meet the doctor performing the surgery beforehand so they can talk you through it and make sure you’re certain it’s the right move. And there’s a long wait between agreeing to the procedure and it actually happening, so there’s ample time for second thoughts.

NHS. Good.

And yet, many still cling to this. “You might want more kids later, though” is a common ‘concern’. But you know what, I’m a grown adult. I am aware that decisions have consequences, and I’m willing to accept them, otherwise I’d never do anything ever.

Same goes for my wife; people say “What if she changes her mind?” Thing is, she’s also a mature adult, and I trust her capacity to make decisions. And if she ends up regretting it, well that’s her responsibility too. I’m not the boss of her. And if we both end up changing our minds, well, vasectomies are reversible. Sure, it’s more complex and expensive, but if it matters that much to us, I’ll do it.

“What if you get divorced and meet someone else and she wants kids?” is another one. But you know what, if you’re the sort of person who makes decisions based on your marriage breaking down, you probably shouldn’t get married in the first place.

Personally, I don’t think “but you might change your mind later” is anywhere near as valid an argument as most people seem to think. If it were, the tattoo industry wouldn’t exist, at the very least.

Whose discomfort is more important?

Look, guys, I get it. A vasectomy, the idea of having the most intimate part of your body surgically opened and altered, isn’t exactly tempting. It sounds like a lot of discomfort, sure, and there is some involved, no doubt.

But, consider Stuart Heritage’s article again. He describes, in detail, all the aggro his wife has experienced in the name of contraception. But he won’t get a vasectomy himself, because of the discomfort that might result from it.

Basically, his potential discomfort is more important than his wife’s literal, established discomfort. And a great deal of the arguments I’ve heard from men boil down to this same basic point.

That’s not the type of man I’d ever want to be though, so I got a vasectomy. I’d heartily recommend any other guys in my position do the same.

Although maybe put together a suitable playlist beforehand.

Dean Burnett doesn’t get anywhere near this intimate in his bestselling books, available now.

Dr Dean Burnett is a neuroscientist, author and stand up comedian. He is the author of the international best -sellers The Idiot Brain and The Happy Brain and formerly the hugely popular Brain Flapping for The Guardian. He is a former tutor and lecturer for  the Cardiff University Centre for Medical Education and the recipient of the British Neuroscience Association’s 2019 award for Public Engagement of Neuroscience. He is @garwboy on Twitter.

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