Roughly 27 percent of men will develop an inguinal hernia in their lifetime, and about a million procedures are done to fix them each year. The operation is as routine as a surgery can be — often conducted by non-specialists with no mandated outpatient stay — but trust me when I say that nobody can fully prepare you for the aftermath. Medically, a “hernia” refers to any piece of internal tissue that has penetrated into an area where it shouldn’t be, and my body was a textbook case. I came out of the womb with a gap in my left groin that allowed a piece of my bowel to escape out of my abdominal cavity and toward my scrotum. To fix it, my doctor needed to make three keyhole-sized incisions on my stomach, dissect out the incarcerated intestines and suture on a small piece of mesh on the weak spot to prevent any potential recurrences. Everything went according to plan, which means I was in a world of hurt when they roused me in the recovery room.
The first thing you’ll notice is that you’re alive. Great! The second thing you’ll notice is that your testicles have swollen to an incredible, unsustainable tautness, and that a single cough will immediately set your core muscles aflame. I languished in bed for a while — enjoying that strange post-operation feeling of anguished, excruciating victory — until a nurse guided me over to a recliner where I was rewarded with a package of graham crackers, a carton of apple juice and a plastic canteen I was instructed to urinate in. (Once you pee, you get to go home. Those are the rules.) I chewed up the crackers into a damp mush and discovered that my biochemical swallowing instinct was currently offline. My throat simply wouldn’t listen to my brain. I sat there for a while, attempting to manually trigger my digestive reflexes, soaking in one of the rarer conditions of the human experience — to be totally, thoroughly helpless.
Eventually, I found my footing and proudly produced a pee-filled jar to the warden. That was enough to clear the hurdles, and a staffer escorted me to the hospital foyer while my girlfriend called an Uber. I remained as still as possible in the backseat, quietly going over all the rules in my head: No heavy lifting, no cardio, no hot food, no side-sleeping. I was determined to hit the comeback trail as hard as possible, taking advantage of all the knowledge I accrued through anxious Googling before the surgery. In fact, it wasn’t until I retreated to my bedroom and began my recovery in earnest that I realized I hadn’t accounted for the most important query of all: When am I allowed to have sex again?
“One hundred percent of people think about that question,” says Brian Jacob, a surgeon in New York who specializes in hernia repair. “But less than 25 percent bring it up.” I’m not surprised. Men are famously incapable of being transparent in front of a medical staff. We never book our yearly physicals and refuse to show up for our colonoscopies. So why would it be any different with a hernia? Yes, it’s humiliating to ask a grown man for a lovemaking itinerary, and yes, it’s dispiriting to know that your body will be so enfeebled that any mild thrusting may break your insides in two. But this is important information, and sometimes important information requires one to swallow their ego. So, I let it fly, and got my answer.
“It really depends on how the surgery is done. If it’s minimally invasive [i.e., laparoscopic], you can get back in the sack as soon as it stops hurting down there — day four, day five, day six. I’ve heard of people getting at it in two or three days,” Jacob explains. “But if it’s done with the traditional open-surgery method, that’s going to hurt for two or three weeks. And it’s probably best if you wait those two or three weeks.”
The logic here is pretty straightforward. Surgery hurts, and if you’re capable of pumping away at a respectable cadence, missionary style, with absolutely no soreness after getting sliced up and kneaded back together, you’re a braver man than I. (Or maybe you’re just the horniest man on the planet.) The other reason is more serious. Nobody wants to disrupt the surgeon’s hard work. The worst-case scenario after a successful hernia repair is to push your body too far after recovery, shredding the mesh, sending everyone involved back to square one. That’s why doctors advise against hitting the squat rack right after the procedure — who wants to get their bowels dismembered twice?
Can you imagine the shame of returning to your surgeon, hat in hand, after blowing past the guardrails because you couldn’t handle a week’s worth of celibacy? Boning too early doesn’t just risk your body’s structural integrity, it also raises serious questions about your discipline.
Jacob recommends that his patients take it slow once they get back to their copulation schedule. “You gotta go vanilla until the pain is gone,” he says. “Set the BDSM and the whips aside for a while. Avoid anything that feels like a sit-up.” Jacob also notes that some men suffer from severe genital bruising in the days after the repair. It’s nothing to worry about, he says, but the unsightliness might damper the mood.
So yes, make sure that you and your partner’s smoldering journey through the Kama Sutra doesn’t overlap with your surgery date. In fact, I kinda like the idea of using a hernia surgery to reemphasize soft, romantic lovemaking in a relationship. Maybe every man needs to be enervated every now and then, regardless of medical necessity. It may be the only way to get us, as a gender identity, to reassess our carnal priorities.
It’s been almost a month since my hernia repair. My body no longer feels broken, and my guts are cozy and chilling back where they’re supposed to be. Any surgical procedure asks you to trade short-term debilitation for a pain-free existence, and I’d have no problem taking that deal again. Let that be the proverb I leave anyone going in for a hernia operation: There is light at the end of the tunnel. The sky is blue, the air is crisp, and your dick will work again soon. I guarantee it.