The heaviest word in the English language, for a man, might be “vasectomy.” It’s a big decision, and one that can have very positive effects on the quality of a man’s life (and his partner’s life, too). But there is one last thing men should consider — after they have gone over all the obvious things — before they walk into the clinic. Scientists warn that men might do well to freeze their sperm in case they change their mind about childbirth down the road. The reason: vasectomies can permanently damage a man’s sperm.
In a vasectomy operation, a surgeon closes up the tube through which sperm travels from the testicles. It’s called the “vas deferens.” Of all the procedures, about six percent of adult men end up getting it reversed, often because they wish to start a family with a new partner. Reversals are not difficult to perform, and the man will leave the hospital on the same day that he came. Most are called “vasovasostomies,” which involve reconnecting the vas deferens.
Yet researchers now say that the initial vasectomy may leave permanent damage in the sperm. A study of 21 sperm samples from men who had a reversal showed that they were 10 times as likely to have genetic defects than those who never had a vasectomy in the first place. These men had an abnormally high rate of sexual defects, where sperm had either an extra X or Y chromosome where it wasn’t supposed to have it.
These defects translate into possible health problems in offspring, including Klinefelter syndrome where boys with an extra X develop disproportioned bodies and have learning difficulties. In girls, a sperm carrying two X chromosomes (instead of one) can cause Triple X syndrome, which can lead to seizures and infertility.
Researchers believe that the ensuing pressure that builds up in the vas deferens after a vasectomy disrupts the normal production of sperm. And the only conclusion for the genetic defects is that the vasectomy directly caused the abnormal sperm.
From this evidence, they suggest that men have sperm samples frozen before undergoing the procedure so that healthy sperm will be available should they ever want to have children in the future. They do note that more research is greatly warranted in this area.