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Experts debunk 5 myths about vasectomies

File photo: A vasectomy is a minor surgical procedure wherein the vasa deferentia of a man are severed, and then tied/sealed in a manner which prevents sperm from entering the seminal stream (ejaculate). Photo: Independent Newspapers

File photo: A vasectomy is a minor surgical procedure wherein the vasa deferentia of a man are severed, and then tied/sealed in a manner which prevents sperm from entering the seminal stream (ejaculate). Photo: Independent Newspapers

Published Jul 4, 2022

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By Meena Venkataramanan

Since last week's Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, men across the US are rushing to get vasectomies.

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But common myths about vasectomies continue to circulate on social media, including that they are easily reversible and are a preventive measure until a patient is ready to have a child.

In this deluge of misinformation, some might be wondering what's true about vasectomies. The Washington Post spoke to physicians about vasectomies and what to believe:

1. You should treat a vasectomy as a permanent procedure

Despite the common misconception floating around social media that vasectomies are easily reversible, urologists recommend that patients treat vasectomies as permanent procedures.

"Though reversals are possible, they're not necessarily effective all the time," said Esgar Guarín, an Iowa physician who specializes in vasectomies. "That's why we insist that a vasectomy is a permanent contraceptive decision. It's not like we turn it on and off."

Misinformation has included viral tweets and Instagram posts alleging that vasectomies are easily reversible, as well as a meme from popular television show "The Office" in which the character Michael Scott, played by actor Steve Carell, says he has had three vasectomies.

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"It's a very famous joke - 'snip-snap, snip-snap,' like it's that easy," said Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Buffalo who specializes in understanding health misinformation.

"Misinformation about vasectomies is prevalent, but again, it's not the same as abortion misinformation because you still need to go through a doctor for a vasectomy," he said. Ophir added that unlike abortion, there is no danger of a person who is not professionally trained performing a vasectomy on themselves.

Guarín acknowledged that reversing a vasectomy is generally easier than reversing a tubal ligation - a procedure to close a person's fallopian tubes - but said "it doesn't mean it's necessarily easy."

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Vasectomy specialists said the success rate of a reversal depends on various factors, including how long ago a person underwent the procedure and the fertility of their partner.

"The likelihood of a reversal being successful in someone who's had a vasectomy for 25 years is far lower than the likelihood of a reversal being successful in someone who's had the vasectomy for three years," said Doug Stein, a Florida urologist.

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Reversals also take longer than vasectomies and are more costly, said John Curington, Stein's associate. Ultimately, the procedure is not a preventive measure for people who are not yet ready to have children but may want them in the future.

2. Vasectomies won't reduce sexual performance

Some doctors report that one common concern among patients is a fear that vasectomies will negatively impact sexual function.

"I think that myth is just based on a misunderstanding of anatomy," Curington said. "A vasectomy is just a little procedure that snips the tubes that carry the sperm, but the semen is made in the prostate and the seminal vesicles, which are about two inches north of where we do the procedure. So there's essentially no way that a vasectomy can actually cause a change in sexual performance."

Philip Werthman, a California fertility doctor, emphasized that contrary to myths, a person's sex drive is also unlikely to be negatively affected by a vasectomy.

3. After a vasectomy, you should still use a condom or other contraceptives until cleared by your doctor

Several vasectomy patients believe that after the procedure, they can immediately stop using other contraceptives.

"Men are under the faulty assumption that as soon as they get a vasectomy they're sterile," said Marc Goldstein, director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Microsurgery at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York.

Goldstein emphasized that it typically takes about six weeks to ensure sperm is no longer alive in the vas deferens, which should be documented by a sperm test. But the process of ensuring the sperm is washed out can take up to three months for some patients, Werthman said.

"Using contraception in that period is very important," he said.

4. Recent studies cannot confirm a consistent link between vasectomies and prostate cancer

A 1993 study claimed that there is an association between vasectomies and an increased risk of prostate cancer. But since then, Stein stressed, there have been several studies published with no consistent results with respect to the association between the procedure and cancer.

"There's no consistent evidence that a vasectomy and prostate cancer are in any way related," he said.

5. Most people who have received a vasectomy can still generate a pregnancy

When a draft opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization leaked in May, Ashley Winter took to Twitter to debunk common myths about vasectomies. Winter, an Oregon urologist, noted that while vasectomies are not easily reversible, most people who have received them can still generate a pregnancy.

Patients can freeze their sperm for use in procedures including intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). But there is concern that the IVF procedure could become more complicated and costly after the Dobbs decision.

"I always strongly recommend that they freeze sperm prior to the vasectomy and freeze at least two or three specimens and divide it up between two or three different sperm banks," Goldstein said.

A vasectomy reversal is another option, although the efficacy of the procedure varies and not all vasectomy surgeons are also skilled in reversals, Shah said. Stein agreed: "Until vasectomy reversals are 100% successful, we cannot call vasectomies reversible procedures in the same way that we can call other contraceptive options reversible."

As myths about vasectomies continue to circulate around the internet, Ophir, the expert in health misinformation, encourages prospective vasectomy patients to consult a medical professional.

"You're not going to get the best information from Reddit nor on Twitter," he said. "People should talk to their doctors and read official websites by public health organisations."

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