What It’s Like to Have a Vasectomy Overseas
Trying to produce a semen sample in a doctor's office in Seoul turns out to be a surreal challenge.
The nervous young assistant, the same one who two months ago had prepped me for the operation to vanquish my reproductive abilities, tells me to sit. In practiced, broken English, accompanied by demonstrative hand motions, he tells me to lock door; masturbate; collect semen in cup. He reiterates the “lock door” part and presses a button on the DVD remote. He has vanished into the hallway and closed the sliding door behind him before the screen comes on, displaying a Japanese porno in media res: a white lab–coated Asian doctor and naked female patient are in an examination room. The setting hits a bit close to home.
This real-life doctor’s office is in Seoul. I’m originally from Kentucky, but right after college, I decided to make some money and see the world teaching English in South Korea. I met my wife soon after arriving. We lived in the States for a few years, where we had a baby girl, but when I lost my corporate job there, we decided to move back to Korea, where I would have total job security.
When we got pregnant again a few months later, I decided a vasectomy was an economic necessity.
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Back in the masturbation room at the doctor’s, the watermark on the screen says “Tokyo Hot,” but it is so very Tokyo not. The thespian in the doctor’s role is copulating awkwardly with a woman who is being participatory without seeming at all into it. I find the director’s focus on anatomically informative close-ups uninspired. In fact, his overall artistic vision is thoroughly unappealing to my tastes. I reach for the remote.
A few skips ahead and suddenly four hitherto unseen protagonists appear, each wielding a metallic tool like an overlarge dentist’s explorer or a smallish meat hook, assailing a woman’s body with a decidedly un-arousing and sterile curiosity. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I need to be able to convince myself that the woman is enjoying herself for this kind of material to have its intended effect.
I skip ahead again until a new leading lady appears, this one fully clothed, engaged in paperwork at her desk. This provides a less off-putting background scene as I fire up my phone to find some material more to my liking. Suddenly, however, I notice something in my peripheral vision, and I look up to see a creepy old man peering at me through a slightly opened door on the screen. He is ogling the actress, who is stapling and arranging papers, oblivious to his sunken, bloodshot eyes behind her. I try not to think about who would find this arousing, and then I realize I’m dissociating in order to cope, and it isn’t helping. Arousal level still inadequate for production of precious bodily fluids.
My chair is some sort of plastic vibrating device, but although the power indicator light is green, it’s not functioning no matter how many buttons I press. All it manages to do is creak tellingly under my exertions, and the thin plywood sliding door to my cubicle seems an inadequate sound buffer considering the dozen or so people in the waiting room just a few feet away down the silent hallway. Still, in the spirit of Edward R. Murrow’s exhortation to remember that we are not descended from fearful men, I press on heroically.
Several minutes and a deep feeling of awkward shame later, I walk, dazed, to the front desk. The male assistant is now seated between two female clerks. The whole patient confidentiality thing isn’t big around here, so the clerks are perfectly aware of what’s happening — and now so is everyone in the waiting room, because the assistant declares in a normal speaking voice that I should “place the semen sample in the box and go wash my hands.” As I walk to the bathroom, I avoid all eye contact and try to convince myself that everyone else is more uncomfortable than I am.
A few minutes later, I’m in the doctor’s consultation room. His microscope is hooked up to a large screen. I’ve never seen my sperm live and up close like this (or in fact at all), and somehow, seeing a meager handful or so spermatozoa wriggle and spin in an area that my urologist tells me should contain thousands, I start to feel in a very visceral way the repercussions of the vasectomy. These doomed stragglers, the remnant of those who had already been packed into the tubes pre-op, are the last of my transferable genetic endowment. Barring any unknown offspring of previous romantic entanglements, my two children at home are likely my final chance at a biological legacy.
Bad news: he tells me I’ll need to come back in a month and do it all again to make sure the pipes are totally clear. Somehow, I doubt it will be easier next time.
Christopher Embry is a technical writer from Kentucky who does creative writing on the side. He lives in Seoul with his wife and their two children.
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