Sexist Or Just French? Vasectomies

5

Last year, after two pregnancy scares, I decided we needed a fail-safe form of birth control. I’ve never taken the Pill, relying on condoms and (cringe! shame!) the pull-out method. It worked for two decades… My gynecologist recommended the copper IUD, which I’m still contemplating, but then an expat friend suggested a vasectomy for my husband. In fact, several expats in a mom’s group said their husbands happily got snipped in the name of no more babies.

I broached it with husband. While he wasn’t tossing confetti at the idea, he wasn’t that opposed because there is no situation where he wants another kid, ever. He and I visited my (male) gynecologist to ask for a reference for the vasectomy. The older doctor looked at my husband and asked, “Are you sure?” Husband shifted uncomfortably, “Well, it does make me feel like I’m losing part of my manhood.” Doctor nodded and turned his gaze to me, “Why don’t you consider an IUD or sterilization for yourself?”

Gee, doc, let us count the ways:

  1. Because I’m the one who bears the entire brunt of reproduction (menses, pregnancy, abortion, birth, babies), I’d like to feel at least a semblance of equality in our reproductive responsibility.
  2. Sterilization for a woman is more invasive (general anaesthesia, stitches) than for a man (local anaesthesia, rarely a stitch). Female sterilization carries 20 times the risk of major complications compared to vasectomies, costs three times as much and has a death rate 12 times as high.
  3. While I’m not against the copper IUD, the possible side effects of a heavier menstrual flow, a punctured uterus and expulsion of the IUD—not to mention the discomfort of its insertion—make me hesitant. Also, I have to walk around with a foreign object inside me for the rest of my reproductive days?
  4. What about me feeling like I’m losing part of my womanhood?
  5. We didn’t come here for your personal opinion about our reproductive choices. You are not part of our couple.

Unsurprisingly, this doctor isn’t an outlier in France. In fact, a previous female gyno had said the same thing to us: Better I get the IUD or my tubes tied than husband get sterilized. (Traitor!) Other expats shared similar stories with the husband’s doctor asking—in front of the wife, “What if you want to leave her and have kids with someone else?” Or husband’s French friends flip out and convince him not to do it.

Until 1999, vasectomies were considered “mutilation” in France and were banned under the “Code Napoleon.” French men still seem to believe a vasectomy=castration. (My husband certainly falls into that camp.) Fewer than 1% of French men have had a vasectomy versus 16% in Britain, 11% in the Netherlands and 13% in the U.S. and Canada.* Some expat women even recommend going to the US or UK for a vasectomy as it’s safer, more modern and your choice is not questioned, dissected or harangued by the doctor.

Is it really that bad? Haranguing? Or am I playing this up for the Sexist or Just French angle? Read this and you decide…

“After two pregnancies and grueling births, I didn’t think it was fair that I had to undergo surgery [tubal ligation] as well. My husband, Jean-Luc, agreed it was his turn to take one for the team.

First, he had to go to his GP and get a recommendation for a psychologist. His first visit, the shrink was trying to talk him out of it: “Why oh why would a man, especially one so young, EVER want to do that?! You will be taking away from your MANHOOD! What if you meet another woman who wants kids?” (Fucking dick.)
He told Jean-Luc to think it over and see if he wanted to change his mind. When Jean-Luc didn’t, the shrink explained how painful the process was, i.e. no man should ever have to undergo such an awful procedure when a woman can do it instead. (I was ready to murder him at this point.)
Next, a surgeon has to agree to the procedure which then has to be approved by the hospital medical board. In order for them to approve it, I have to PROVE I can’t take birth control or get the sterilization surgery myself with a note from my doctor. Then there’s another meeting with the psychologist so he can try to convince me to get the surgery. I WILL NOT FOLD.
If we’re approved, Jean-Luc is required to freeze some sperm—just in case and for €200. Only then (and after a mandatory 4-month waiting period) can he have the surgery.
Freezing his sperm is a sore subject between us. I know I’m being incredibly insecure for thinking this, but I hate the idea of Jean-Luc having a backup plan. It hurts to think he may one day have kids with another woman. Our relationship as parents is so special and I can’t bear the thought of him having that with someone else.
We have put off the process for a little while because it’s been a huge source of contention and disagreement. I think Jean-Luc, as a Frenchman, buys into the whole manhood bullshit and wants to freeze sperm because it makes him feel better about the vasectomy. After a few huge fights last month, we’re going forward again and I have to get over it. But deep down, I’m really not okay.
This whole process is the biggest load of bull. France is still stuck in their patriarchal past and I am fucking sick and tired of dealing with misogynistic assholes like these doctors. BUT FUCK THEM! Jean-Luc is getting the surgery. I win. (I feel like it’s a fight between me and the doctors with poor Jean-Luc stuck in the middle!)
Jean-Luc and I made a decision together, happily and fairly—and these fuckers have turned everything to shit. We actually questioned our relationship at points because of this and it is none of their fucking business. What do they care if we come to regret our decision? It is OUR decision!”
—Tabitha, American expat in Lyon**
* Stats from 2000
** Names changed
Additional reporting by Hadley Seward

 What Do You Think?


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Maggie Kim

Maggie Kim is a writer, musician and the founder of LES LOLOS.

5 Comments

  1. Hi Maggie,

    With 3 kids and just turning 36 over the weekend, I’m nearing my decision to have one. The wife and I have embarked on a second gear sexually and I don’t want to derail it. I guess my concern is my sexual appetite. Will this procedure affect it? In Cali, surprisingly, a doctor has told me, weight gain could occur. I’ll just have to figure it out. It’s an intriguing article. The french are a bit silly on the castration perspective.

    • Maggie Kim

      First off, Happy Birthday!! I actually haven’t heard anything re: decreasing libido. From the women I know, they say literally NOTHING has changed. So I think you’ll be fine. Also, good on you!

  2. This is a very interesting article! I am shocked at the reaction of the doctor..HOW FUCKING DARE HE give his 10 cents worth to a subject like this. Asshole. My husband also had a vasectomy but in England and so luckily we avoided this crazy bullshit. It’s such a common procedure over there. ..much more so than here..evidently!

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