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The Long And Short Of The Snip

Scrabble letters spelling the word 'vasectomy' with scissors snipping off the V, which is red.
What do you know about vasectomies? Despite the simplicity of the procedure, the answer is often: not much!

Vasectomies are administered to hundreds of thousands of people each year. Despite the procedure’s simplicity, it’s often shadowed by misconceptions and fears...let's break those down.

For one, it was after a second divorce and one kid by each wife. For another, it was after having one child and not wanting any more. For a third, it was after taking care of younger siblings — and realizing parenthood was not for him.

When I decided finally that I wanted to go have this procedure done, I messaged [my friend], and I was like: Hey, you want to help me not have a baby?
Russ Henry

No matter what leads someone to getting a vasectomy, it provides the seeker with one of the most effective forms of birth control. The procedure is simple, but it’s still something that causes fear and anxiety. Jokes and memes about losing manhood and being in severe pain contribute to hesitancy around getting the surgery.

Host Anita Rao debunks some myths, addresses common concerns and learns about vasectomy science with Dr. Matt Coward, an associate professor of urology at the UNC School of Medicine. He is also the director of Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at UNC Fertility. Rao also talks with Ryan Cragun, a sociology professor at the University of Tampa, about his experience getting a vasectomy — and the reflections on masculinity and manhood it inspired.

Interview Highlights

Dr. Matt Coward on why a lot of people have fear and anxiety leading up to a vasectomy:

What often happens is, a guy will schedule his vasectomy. And if his friends find out, then they start jockeying with him.
Dr. Charles Monteith

It's really the fear of the unknown. And most men have had some sort of testicular injury in the past — being hit with a soccer ball or something — and know that deep pain that's associated with an injury down there. And this is also an area where men derive a fair bit of pleasure. And so they don't want to have anything that hurts down in that area. And so what I've found is most men just expect it to be a lot worse. ... Once they're going through it and they realize it's really not painful, the tension seems to ease and by the end, most men say that the most painful part of the procedure was just taking the tape off at the end where the drapes were stuck to the hair on their legs or something like that. So it tends to be at the end, a lot of fear over a very minor procedure.

It was not just a physical decision for me at the time. It was a emotional one as well, where I was closing the door on that part of my life as far as having any more children.

Ryan Cragun on needing spousal permission to get his vasectomy:

It made me very carefully reflect on the fact that at that moment, I was not in control of my fertility. ... I had always kind of assumed, like: Oh, I'm in control, I can control whether I have a kid or not, I can control my fertility. And in this instance, it was actually me having to get the permission of somebody else to control my fertility. And it just made me reflect … that this is the experience of women, basically on a daily basis. That people are monitoring and controlling and trying to regulate their fertility all the time. And for me, it was just that one time, but it really was very impactful to have to deal with that.

Please note: This conversation originally aired July 30, 2021.

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Kaia Findlay is the lead producer of Embodied, WUNC's weekly podcast and radio show about sex, relationships and health. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.