Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pornography in hospitals

"Pornography in Hosptials" by Ben Goldacre in today's Guardian. The Dr encouraged me to respond:
"Fascinating article, thank you. We finished our final course of IVF earlier this year with no good result and are now looking into adoption. We found the whole process of IVF utterly harrowing: I blogged about it at and then again at

We were caught between three health authorities so I've used the wanking rooms in four different hospitals in the last few years.

They all provide instructions. For the initial tests into infertility, you're meant to abstain from sex for three days prior to producing a specimen. When it gets to the IVF itself the instructions are more complex – you have to ejaculate as near to 48 hours before as possible, and then on the day itself, once the eggs have been prepared, everyone's just down the corridor waiting on you. So no pressure.

But otherwise the hospitals do very different things. Hospital #1 had a photocopied sheet (which I kept because I thought no one would believe me) that explains things like, “The specimen must be obtained by masturbation...”. It also says, in bold, “NB There are no facilities for the specimen to be produced at [Hospital #1]” and that specimens must be delivered within 45 minutes.

This is something of a bother if you live 45 minutes away from the hospital by car, and worse if you don't have a car. At exactly what stage in the process do you ring for the taxi – before or after?

The taxi driver will inevitably arrive earlier than you're expecting, and then – as you sit red-faced and guilty in the cab – will not know where the hospital is. So you get out the photocopied sheet for the address, and realise as you show it to him that it says in big letters “Semen samples for infertility investigation”.

There is not a lot of dignity in this process.

I've sadly not been able to find the photocopied sheet from Hospital #2, but I'm pretty sure I kept it because it said something along the lines of, “Please do not produce specimens in the waiting room.” I assume they need to tell us this based on past experience.

At Hospital #3 there's a special toilet cubicle with its own key and a small offering of tatty pornography. You collect the key from the nice lady at reception, who provides you with a pot and a brown envelope. You produce your specimen, fill in the label on the jar and hide the jar in the envelope. You then take it back to reception, but don't hand it to the receptionist. Instead, you put it in one of the lockers opposite, lock the door and hand the key to the locker and the key to the wanking room to the receptionist. That way, of course, she won't know what you've just done.

If someone else is waiting for the room, you don't hand the key to them. Instead, you pass it to the receptionist who leaves a beat before handing it the next wanker. You shuffle off, trying not to make eye contact.

Worse is when the next person is already waiting before you go in. You find yourself wondering if you've been to quick or slow. Is there a study on the optimum time spent having a wank?

Because of building work at Hospital #3, our last go at IVF was split between there and at Hospital #4, with me dashing across town in a taxi to deliver freshly harvested bits of my wife. Hospital #4 is an altogether different operation, with a very smart room for a better class of wank. There's a light outside the door to let other people know its occupied, a DVD player as well as the magazines, and a comfy leather chair. Well, I say “comfy” - it would be in any other circumstance. You try not to wonder if the seat is warm from the last occupant, and not to make the chair squeak.

Instead of a locker system, you put your labelled jar into a pneumatic tube. It's like a wank from the future.

The porn was still just as cheap and tatty as that in Hospital #3 – which I'm sure will come as some comfort to taxpayers and think-tanks. And it's a stressy, pressured thing to have to do anyway, and so spectacularly unerotic. As a bloke, this is your one contribution to a process that is, for your partner, awful and intrusive and bruising - physically and mentally. You spend most of your time as a useless spare part, while the person you love goes through hell.

You get used to the matter-of-fact and brutal language with which your plumbing and parts are discussed. You get used to the numbers these tests produce, and the stark probabilities of success. You and your partner are utterly objectified, cuts of meat on the slab.

I appreciate the objections to porn, and in the context a workplace. But as my blog post says, there's a lot of weird reactions to IVF, and the way some people judge you for it – or seem to – is particularly cruel.

IVF is a desperate and terrible thing to go through. I'd have stabbed myself in the eye if the doctors had said it increased the chances of success. £20 a year on some tatty jazz mags doesn't seem very excessive."


Le Mc said...

Perhaps, after the whole miserable process of the IVF stuff, you will have enough material for a bleakly satirical nonfiction book?

Anonymous said...

This made me cry with laughter. That's my excuse.

The original article has a splendid passage (with reference) about timing difficulties in the oocyte cycle:

"some men find it impossible to ejaculate on the day it’s most needed for IVF, and sperm can only be retrieved by epididymal aspiration, or rather, a needle inserted into the testicle. This is a seriously sub-optimal outcome."