The Snip, Part 1

I’d like to start with a joke:

Is there a difference between men and women?

Yes! There’s a vas deferens.

What’s no joke, though, is the human population explosion. There’re just too damn many of us, as I explained last year. That’s the primary reason behind my decision, held for pretty-much the entirety of my adult life, to choose not to breed.

World population for the last 12,000 years.

I’m fully aware that the conscious decision to not-breed by a single individual – especially in the developed world – makes virtually no difference to the global fate of humanity. I’m under no illusion that my efforts as a vegetarian are saving the world either. But just like the voter who casts a ballot for their party – even though they know it won’t make a difference to the outcome of the election – I understand that doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily have to have a directly quantifiable benefit.

Somehow, this delicious-looking BLT makes an appearance almost any time I talk about overpopulation or vegetarianism. This is the fifth time.
Somehow, this delicious-looking BLT makes an appearance almost any time I talk about overpopulation or vegetarianism. This is the fifth time.

That’s why I’m finally taking the next obvious step. Next month, after literally years of talking about it, I’m finally going to put my genitals where my mouth is (hmm… maybe that wasn’t the best choice of words)! Next week, I’m getting a vasectomy.

The "F" is for "Fuck me you're going to put a scalpel WHERE?"
The “F” is for “Fuck me you’re going to put a scalpel WHERE?”

I first asked a doctor about the possibility of vasectomy about a decade ago. He remarked upon my age, and said – almost jokingly – “Come back in ten years if you still feel the same way!” I almost wish that I still had the same GP now, so that I could do exactly that. Instead, I spoke about a year ago to my (old) GP here in Oxford, who misled me into thinking that I would not be able to get the surgery on the NHS, and would have to have it done privately. Finally, a second doctor agreed to sign off their part of the consent form, and I was good to go. The secret, it seems, is persistence.

I suppose I'll be eligible for a Golden Snip Award. Click through for more information.
I suppose I’ll be eligible for a Golden Snip Award. Click through for more information.

I’m sure that this is a decision that won’t be without it’s controversies. And believe me: over the course of the most-of-my-life-so-far that I’ve hinted at or talked about doing this, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all of the arguments. Still: I feel like I ought to pick up on some of the things I’ve heard most-often –

"Breeder Bingo" card. Complete a line, get a free case of contraceptives!
“Breeder Bingo” card. Complete a line, get a free case of contraceptives!

What if you change your mind?

Even despite medical advances in recent decades in vasectomy reversal, vasectomy should still be considered a “one way trip”. Especially when I was younger, people seemed concerned that I would someday change my mind, and then regret my decision not to spawn children.

I suppose that it’s conceivable – unlike my otherwise potential offspring – but it’s quite a stretch, to believe that I might someday regret not having children (at least not biologically: I have no problem with adopting, co-parenting, fostering, or any number of other options for being involved in the upbringing of kids). I honestly can’t see how that’d come about. But even if we do take that far-fetched idea: isn’t it equally possible that somebody might ultimately regret having children. We take risks in our lives with any choice that we make – maybe I’ll someday regret not having taken my degree in Law or Chemistry or Rural Studies. Well then: c’est la vie.

Do you just not like children?

Children are great, and I’d love to get the chance to be involved in raising some. However, I don’t define myself by that wish: if I never have the opportunity to look after any kids, ever, then that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world: I’d just spend my years writing code in a house full of cats. I have no doubt that raising children is great (for many people), but just like there are plenty of people for whom it’s not great, there are also plenty of people – like me – who could be happy either way. No biggie!

There are those who have said that this laid-back “take it or leave it” approach, especially when coupled with the more-recent act of rendering myself infertile, will make me less attractive to women. Leaving aside the implicit sexism in that claim, wouldn’t a fair retort be to point out that a woman who is looking for monogamous breeding probably isn’t my “type” to begin with!

But if only we could make sure only the RIGHT people breed...
But if only we could make sure only the RIGHT people breed…

But you should be breeding?

This argument’s usually based on the idea that I’m somehow genetically superior and that my children wouldn’t be such a strain on the world as somebody else’s, or that mine would have a significantly better-than-average chance of curing cancer, solving world hunger, or something.

The explosion of planet Earth.
Only sterilisation can prevent the detonation of the planet. Maybe.

And let’s face it, any child of mine would be just as likely to be the one to build a really big bomb. Or create a super-virus. Or just engineer the collapse the world’s economies into a prehistoric barter economy in a technophobic future anarchy. Attaboy.

In any case, I’m pretty sure that my personal contribution to the betterment of the world ought not to be a genetic one. I’d like to make a difference for the people who are around right now, rather than hypothetical people of the future, and I’d far rather leave ideas in my wake than a handful of genes. I’m sure that’s not the case for everybody, but then – it doesn’t have to be.

How about a vasectomy? (comic)
It takes balls to have a vasectomy. Literally.

Or are there some arguments that I’ve missed? If you’re among the folks who feel really strongly about this, then you’ve got about seven days to make them, and then it’s off to the clinic for me! Just remember: what’s right for me isn’t necessarily what’s right for you, and vice-versa. Just because I use Emacs doesn’t mean that some other, inferior text editor might not be the right choice for you.

I wonder what my surgeon might say to the possibility of me live-tweeting the process? Would anybody be interested? (I promise not to include any photos.)

(with thanks to Nina Paley for permission to use the comics)

22 replies to The Snip, Part 1

  1. I suppose that it’s conceivable […] to believe that I might someday regret not having children […] I honestly can’t see how that’d come about. But even if we do take that far-fetched idea

    Says the person who regularly described vegetarianism as an eating disorder, and is now vegetarian.

    In all seriousness though, good luck!

    • Thanks!

      My thinking here runs as follows:

      1. I’ve always been far more unwavering on my plans not to father children far more-consistently than I have on, for example, my diet.

      2. Both my (long-standing) non-breeding and my (newer) vegetarianism represent a push in the same direction; that is, towards attempts to preserve the planet for the benefit of other humans.

      3. Even to the extent that I can conceive (haha!) of “changing my mind”, it still doesn’t make sense to me that certainly I’d regret my decision, because it’d still be the case that I could be happy either way. Even if I somehow went beyond that, and did come to regret it… then I can’t imagine that the regret would be significant. And even if it were… I can’t imagine that my views on the nature of parenting would have simultaneously changed to such an extent that (say) adopting wouldn’t be a perfectly good option for me.

      In short: this seems like a very safe decision, a long time in the making. I shan’t pretend that having somebody stab me in the crotch isn’t a little scary, though!

      Thanks for your support.

    • I’m sure that you’ll have even more difficulty than I in getting a doctor to approve of the procedure! After all, tubal ligation has to be done under general anaesthetic (or, at least, done directly after childbirth on epidural) and is a generally more-complex procedure.

      Still: go for it! And if you need to, shout and scream about the gender injustice of it all!

      • Yep, that thought had occurred to me as well. I’m hoping that the (slightly more effective, and GA-free) Essure procedure will be marginally easier to convince people to agree to, although obviously I’ll probably still have to beat the doctor(s) in question around the head with my well-thumbed childhood copy of Roald Dahl’s The Witches while chanting NOT-ALL-WOMEN-LIKE-KIDS-YOU-EEJIT.

  2. I am all for you having a vasectomy by the way!

    But am board at work…

    A vasectomy costs the NHS any were between 350 and 700 pounds depending on your area, in Oxford I would imagine its at the higher end because you probably return to your en-suit room to find your bed turned down and a mint on your pillow… but that’s close to 14 pairs of children’s prescription glasses for benefit reliant families, just as an example, and threes plenty of others, experimental caner drugs allowed so many treatments by regional budget etc. So in reality, even in this tiny way, might you having the snip have more of a negative effect on the world than all your vegetarian efforts?

    Also if your doing all this for the grater good shouldn’t you consider other things as unlikely as your veginess making a difference, like plague or genetic disease, natural disasters etc that you may survive and may require breeders? Or Becky finally giving in and deciding she wants your love child?

    Also don’t compare your bacon forgoing funk to voting, voting or not contributes to an establish system guaranteed to produce a result on a national scale one way or another, you have no were near enough people on board with this yet!!

    • £365, here: I looked at the cost of having it done privately, and I’m having it done at the same clinic that would have done it if it were private, so I know what the cost is (it could actually be less than that: the NHS have negotiating power that I probably don’t).

      As far as the economic argument is concerned in general:

      I won’t need a bed nor a mint, because I’m being treated as an outpatient: whole procedure should take less time than it’d take for me to go to the dentist for a filling, and it (almost entirely) removes the risk, however slight, that I will create a child. A child would cost more in child support alone than the cost of the operation, and that’s before we look at the cost of schools, subsidised transport, reduced tax income while the mother took maternity leave, vaccinations, pregnancy care, etc. etc. The return-on-investment of a child comes very late on: they’re well into their career before they start to pay back enough tax to economically justify their existence. Therefore, it is a wise investment for a government facing many years of economic hardship to offer free sterilisation.

      Compare and contrast the cost of IVF, which is also available on the NHS: a round of IVF for an otherwise-infertile mother costs the state about £5,000, and has a success rate of under 30% (depending on the age of the woman)! Suddenly £365 for an operation with a success rate of 99.95% doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

      “What if there’s a plague and we required breeders?” Maybe. Or what if alien Hitler invades the Earth with his fleet of baking-soda-powered robot penguins? There’s a comic in my blog post ( which answers that quite well. I think that the odds of such a disaster that requires me to breed “for the good of the species” is actually less-likely than the risk (if I didn’t have the operation) of me accidentally fathering a child. And even if that were the case, there are workarounds: there’s been successful surgery to extract viable sperm directly from the testicles (ouch!) of vasectomied men, and I’m sure that if I really were the “last man alive”, we’d probably been looking at that as a real option, wouldn’t we!

      Game theory can be applied equally well to environmental vegetarianism as it can to voting in a general election. In both cases, an individual will not make a difference by themselves: but it can still be the correct thing for them to do, and – as part of a larger movement – they can be part of a difference.

      Voting is guaranteed to produce a result on a national scale in the same way as the Lottery is guaranteed to produce a winner: it’s almost certain that there’ll be a winner, but that doesn’t mean that it makes a difference whether or not you buy a ticket, because – let’s face it – it’s not going to be you.

  3. As this post is called “The Snip, Part1” I’m a little nervous about the amount of detail that you might include in Part 2.

    Good luck, though

    • Well: I’ll certainly be doing a post-op write-up, of course.

      And, if people are game, I’m happy to live-tweet from the operating table (as it’s done under local anesthetic, I can give you all a blow-by-blow account of the experience of having my scrotum sliced at). I can even promise that I won’t use pictures.

      • There are times I wonder if there’s truly something wrong with me. The moment I thought “ooh, I bet that’d be really interesting!” is one of those moments.

        • No, you’re right – I think it *would* be really interesting. And – with the exception of the bits of me that are usually on the inside, and perhaps a few bits that are usually better-concealed by hair (they’ve given me a guide as to which bits to shave before the surgery) – there’s probably nothing you haven’t seen before… ;-)

          But I don’t imagine the surgeon would appreciate snapping with my phone the whole time, either. Maybe just plain-old-live-tweeting will have to do.

  4. You’ve felt this way as long as I’ve known you, it seems like the right decision for you. No need to be so vas deferensive!*

    But seriously, I can’t believe how closed-minded you are to vi!**

    People always advise against closing doors when you don’t have to. Without *some* permanent decisions, you can spend your life in the proverbial corridor because you couldn’t pick a room. If it makes your life easier, why not – never mind the nobler reasons which, let’s face it, are implementable without the surgery :P

    **Sorry again

    • Indeed. Perhaps I shouldn’t get so teste about it.

      Certainly, it’s implementable without the surgery, yes: but in ways which are – depending on what has been selected – some combination of: less-pleasurable, less-practical, less-safe, less-effective, or less-suitable for my partner.

      I’m sure you can appreciate the laziness benefits, too, having switched between a variety of contraceptive methods over your life: something that you don’t have to remember to do every day, or every time you have sex, is a clear step up for convenience!

  5. Do it, goodness knows I’ll be getting one when we’ve got a decent size band.

    You won’t change your mind, but maybe best to still freeze some tads; life taking the bizarre turns that it does.

    You will qualify for my merry group for survivors of crotch injury; the Geniteers.

    • See: that’s what I like to hear – the words of a man who’s already had surgery on his manbits who says “A+++, would scalpel again.”

  6. I’ve been thinking about it, too. One of the things that seems to lurk beneath the surface of my rational arguments is “It will make me less of a man.” Rationally, it doesn’t but there’s the small. childish part of my brain saying “WAAAHH! DON’T WANNA!”

    • Yeah: it’s like going for an immunisation or a dental check-up or something, isn’t it? If you can “get by” fine without it, and it’ll be uncomfortable or inconvenient, then part of your brain rebels against the very idea of it.

  7. This post has been censored at the request of Sundeep. See: all censored posts, all posts censored by request of Sundeep.
    This is the first in a series of four blog posts which ought to have been published during January 2013, but ran late because I didn’t want to publish any of them before the first one.
    2012 was one of the hardest years of my life.
    My retweet of JTA’s sentiments, shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve, pretty much covers my feeling of the year, too.It was a year of unceasing disasters and difficulties: every time some tragedy had befallen me, my friends, or family, some additional calamity was lined-up to follow in its wake. In an environment like this, even the not-quite-so-sad things – like the death of Puddles, our family dog, in May – were magnified, and the ongoing challenges of the year – like the neverending difficulties with my dad’s estate – became overwhelming.
    My sister Becky with Puddles, both younger and more-foolish than they eventually became. I don’t know why Puddles is wearing a t-shirt.The sudden and unexpected death of my dad while training for his Arctic trek, was clearly the event which had the most-significant impact on me. I’ve written about the experience at length, both here on my blog and elsewhere (for example, I made a self-post to Reddit on the day after the accident, urging readers to “call somebody you love today”).
    My dad, climbing Aladdin’s Mirror in the Cairngorms.In the week of his death, my sister Becky was suffering from an awful toothache which was stopping her from eating, sleeping, or generally functioning at all (I tried to help her out by offering some oil of cloves (which functions as a dental contact anesthetic), but she must have misunderstood my instruction about applying it to the tooth without swallowing it, because she spent most of that evening throwing up (seriously: don’t ever swallow clove oil).
    My dad’s clothes for his funeral. My sisters and I decided that he ought to be dressed as he would be for a one of his summer hikes, right down to the combination of sandals and socks (the funeral director needed reassurance that yes, he really did routinely wear both at the same time).Little did she know, worse was yet to come: when she finally went to the dentist, he botched her operation, leaving her with a jaw infection. The infection spread, causing septicæmia of her face and neck and requiring that she was hospitalised. On the day of our dad’s funeral, she needed to insist that the “stop gap” surgery that she was given was done under local, rather than general, anasthetic, so that she could make it – albeit in a wheelchair and unable to talk – to the funeral.
    Five weeks later, my dad finally reached the North Pole, his ashes carried by another member of his team. At about the same time, Ruth‘s grandmother passed away, swamping the already-emotional Earthlings with yet another sad period. That same month, my friend S****** suffered a serious injury, a traumatic and distressing experience in the middle of a long and difficult period of her life, and an event which caused significant ripples in the lives of her circle of friends.
    The notice of Ruth’s grandmother’s death, as it appeared in the online version of her local newspaper.Shortly afterwards, Paul moved out from Earth, in a situation that was anticipated (we’d said when we first moved in together that it would be only for a couple of years, while we all found our feet in Oxford and decided on what we’d be doing next, as far as our living situations were concerned), but still felt occasionally hostile: when Paul left town six months later, his last blog post stated that Oxford could “get lost”, and that he’d “hated hated 90% of the time” he’d lived here. Despite reassurances to the contrary, it was sometimes hard – especially in such a difficult year – to think that this message wasn’t directed at Oxford so much as at his friends there.

    [caption id="attachment_5401" align="aligncenter" width="192"] Learning to walk again.[/caption]

    As the summer came to an end, my workload on my various courses increased dramatically, stretching into my so-called “free time”: this, coupled with delays resulting from all of the illness, injury, and death that had happened already, threw back the release date of Milestone: Jethrik, the latest update to Three Rings. Coupled with the stress of the 10th Birthday Party Conference – which thankfully JTA handled most of – even the rare periods during which nobody was ill or dying were filled with sleepless nights and anxiety. And of course as soon as all of the preparation was out of the way and the conference was done, there were still plenty of long days ahead, catching up on everything that had been temporarily put on the back burner.
    My sister Sarah and I at the christening of a bus named after my dad. Click the picture for the full story.When I was first appointed executor of my dad’s estate, I said to myself that I could have the whole thing wrapped-up and resolved within six months… eight on the outside. But as things dragged on – it took almost six months until the investigation was finished and the coroner’s report filed, so we could get a death certificate, for example – they just got more and more bogged-down. Problems with my dad’s will made it harder than expected to get started (for example, I’m the executor and a beneficiary of the will, yet nowhere on it am I directly mentioned by name, address, or relationship… which means that I’ve had to prove that I am the person mentioned in the will every single time I present it, and that’s not always easy!), and further administrative hiccups have slowed down the process every step of the way.
    On the first anniversary of my dad’s death, I cycled up a hill to watch the sunset with a bottle of Guinness and a Mars bar. And sent this Tweet.You know what would have made the whole thing easier? A bacon sandwich. And black pudding for breakfast. And a nice big bit of freshly-battered cod. And some roast chicken. I found that 2012 was a harder year than 2011 in which to be a vegetarian. I guess that a nice steak would have taken the edge off: a little bit of a luxury, and some escapism. Instead, I probably drank a lot more than I ought to have. Perhaps we should encourage recovering alcoholic, when things are tough, to hit the sausage instead of the bottle.
    It’s been a while, old friend. A while since I used this delicious-looking photograph in my blog, I mean! This is the sixth time… can you find them all?Becky’s health problems weren’t done for the year, after she started getting incredibly intense and painful headaches. At first, I was worried that she was lined-up for a similar diagnosis to mine, of the other year (luckily, I’ve been symptom-free for a year and a quarter now, although medical science is at a loss to explain why), but as I heard more about her symptoms, I became convinced that this wasn’t the case. In any case, she found herself back in the operating room, for the second serious bit of surgery of the year (the operation was a success, thankfully).
    The “F” is for “Fuck me you’re going to put a scalpel WHERE?”I had my own surgery, of course, when I had a vasectomy; something I’d been planning for some time. That actually went quite well, at least as far as can be ascertained at this point (part three of that series of posts will be coming soon), but it allows me to segue into the topic of reproduction…
    Because while I’d been waiting to get snipped, Ruth and JTA had managed to conceive. We found this out right as we were running around sorting out the Three Rings Conference, and Ruth took to calling the fœtus “Jethrik”, after the Three Rings milestone. I was even more delighted still when I heard that the expected birth date would be 24th July: Samaritans‘ Annual Awareness Day (“24/7”).
    One of the many pregnancy tests Ruth took, “just to be sure” (in case the last few were false positives). Photo from Ruth’s blog.As potential prospective parents, they did everything right. Ruth stuck strictly to a perfectly balanced diet for her stage of pregnancy; they told only a minimum of people, because – as everybody knows – the first trimester’s the riskiest period. I remember when Ruth told her grandfather (who had become very unwell towards the end of 2012 and died early this year: another sad family tragedy) about the pregnancy, that it was only after careful consideration – balancing how nice it would be for him to know that the next generation of his family was on the way before his death – that she went ahead and did so. And as the end of the first trimester, and the end of the year, approached, I genuinely believed that the string of bad luck that had been 2012 was over.
    In Ruth’s blog post, she’s used kittens to make a sad story a little softer, and so I have too.But it wasn’t to be. Just as soon as we were looking forward to New Year, and planning to not so much “see in 2013” as to “kick out 2012”, Ruth had a little bleeding. Swiftly followed by abdominal cramps. She spent most of New Year’s Eve at the hospital, where they’d determined that she’d suffered a miscarriage, probably a few weeks earlier.
    Ruth’s written about it. JTA’s written about it, too. And I’d recommend they read their account rather than mine: they’ve both written more, and better, about the subject than I could. But I shan’t pretend that it wasn’t hard: in truth, it was heartbreaking. At the times that I could persuade myself that my grief was “acceptable” (and that I shouldn’t be, say, looking after Ruth), I cried a lot. For me, “Jethrik” represented a happy ending to a miserable year: some good news at last for the people I was closest to. Perhaps, then, I attached too much importance to it, but it seemed inconceivable to me – no pun intended – that for all of the effort they’d put in, that things wouldn’t just go perfectly. For me, it was all connected: Ruth wasn’t pregnant by me, but I still found myself wishing that my dad could have lived to have seen it, and when the pregnancy went wrong, it made me realise how much I’d been pinning on it.
    I don’t have a positive pick-me-up line to put here. But it feels like I should.
    A few days before the miscarriage became apparent, Ruth and her dad survey the back garden of the house he’s rebuilding.And so there we were, at the tail of 2012: the year that began awfully, ended awfully, and was pretty awful in the middle. I can’t say there weren’t good bits, but they were somewhat drowned out by all of the shit that happened. Fuck off, 2012.
    Here’s to 2013.
    Edit, 16th March 2013: By Becky’s request, removed an unflattering photo of her and some of the ickier details of her health problems this year.
    Edit, 11th July 2016: At her request, my friend S******‘s personal details have been obfuscated in this post so that they are no longer readily available to search engines.
    Edit, 26th September 2016: At her request, my friend S******‘s photo was removed from this post, too.

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