A vasectomy is an effective form of contraception available to men, helping to prevent pregnancy in sexual partners. Read this guide for more vasectomy information, including how this procedure is performed, who it’s suitable for and whether it can be reversed or not.
What is a vasectomy?
Also called male sterilisation, a vasectomy is a procedure whereby the tubes which carry a man’s sperm from the testicles to the penis are blocked, cut or sealed.
A vasectomy is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, and it is considered permanent as it means you no longer need to consider contraception.
It is usually carried out under local anaesthetic. This means you are awake but are unable to feel any pain. Sometimes, it is carried out under general anaesthetic, meaning you are asleep during the operation, but this is rare.
How does a vasectomy work?
A vasectomy stops sperm from getting into a man’s semen. During this procedure, the tubes which carry the sperm from a man’s testicles to the penis are cut or blocked. Once the procedure has been carried out, the semen no longer has any sperm in it when a man ejaculates.
How is a vasectomy performed?
Vasectomies are usually a quick, painless procedure taking around 15 minutes. You should find that you are able to go home shortly after the procedure.
There are two different types of vasectomy:
- Conventional vasectomy
During a conventional vasectomy, the scrotum is numbed using a local anaesthetic. The doctor then makes two small skin incisions on either side of the scrotum. This allows them to access the tubes which carry the sperm out of the testicles. When the tubes are cut, a section is removed, then the tubes are closed at each end. This is done by sealing them with heat or tying them. Dissolvable stitches are used to stitch the incisions. These should go away within a week.
- No-scalpel vasectomy
During a no-scalpel vasectomy, the scrotum is numbed using a local anaesthetic. The doctor then makes a small puncture in the skin on the scrotum in order to access the tubes. This eliminates the need to make a skin incision using a scalpel. Like a conventional vasectomy, the tubes are closed by sealing them with heat or tying them. You should experience little bleeding with a no-scalpel vasectomy. It’s also believed to be less painful than a conventional vasectomy, and the risk of complications is lower.
What to consider before having a vasectomy
Choosing to have a vasectomy is a big decision, so it’s important that you are certain that you don’t want to have any children, or any more children. You should also take time to discuss the idea of having a vasectomy with your partner. While you do not need to legally obtain your partner’s permission to have a vasectomy, it’s important that you both agree to it. Vasectomy reversal is not always successful, so you should consider all your options before you make your decision.
Your doctor will also need to speak to you about your decision to have a vasectomy. They should be able to provide you with the information you need, and they may recommend you attend counselling sessions too.
How effective is a vasectomy?
When it comes to preventing pregnancy, a vasectomy offers an effectiveness of more than 99%. However, there is a small chance that pregnancy can occur - especially in the days following the procedure. The existing sperm needs time to clear out of your system, so you cannot assume the vasectomy has been successful until your follow up test shows that your semen is sperm-free.
Who can have a vasectomy?
There's more chance of you being able to have this procedure if you are over the age of 30 and you have already had children.
However, it’s important to remember that you should only opt for a vasectomy if you definitely do not wish to have any children, or any more if you already have children. This is due to the fact that while a vasectomy can be reversed, it is not always successful. So, if you were to change your mind about starting or expanding your family once you’ve had a vasectomy, there’s a chance you may not be able to father a child.
What is the recovery period after a vasectomy?
After a vasectomy, it’s not unusual to feel some discomfort. Following the procedure, common vasectomy side effects include bruising and swelling. You should be able to manage any discomfort using painkillers, including ibuprofen or paracetamol. It’s also common to see traces of blood in your semen the first couple of times you ejaculate following the surgery.
You should use underwear that is tight-fitting in the days after your procedure. This can help relieve any discomfort and provides support for your scrotum.
It’s usually safe to have a bath or shower after a vasectomy, but follow your doctor’s advice. You should make sure that you dry the affected area gently.
You should find that you feel well enough to go back to work one to two days after your procedure. However, it’s important that you avoid any heavy lifting in the week following your vasectomy.
You should avoid sex for a minimum of 7 days. You’ll need to rely on an alternative type of contraception for the first two to three months. This is because it can take this length of time for any remaining sperm in your tubes to clear.
Ensure you follow your doctor’s advice to avoid any complications with your recovery. If you have any concerns following the procedure, you should contact your doctor straight away.
How to know if your vasectomy has worked
Around 12 weeks after your vasectomy procedure, you will be required to provide a semen sample which is then tested to see if there is any sperm present. When this testing shows that your semen is sperm-free, your vasectomy will be considered successful. As a result, you no longer need to use an alternative method of contraception.
In some cases, you may be required to have more than one test.
Can a vasectomy be reversed?
It is possible to undergo vasectomy reversal. However, this procedure is not always a success.
Having the reversal soon after the vasectomy increases your chances of this procedure working. The success rate of a reversal performed within 3 years is estimated to be 75%, with this falling to up to 55% between three and eight years, and approximately 30-40% from 9 to 19 years.
The advantages of a vasectomy
There are a number of advantages if you decide to have a vasectomy. For example:
- It is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
- There are rarely any long-term health effects.
- It will not have an impact on your hormones or sex life.
- It is considered to be a safer and simpler option than female sterilisation.
The disadvantages of a vasectomy
There are some downsides to choosing to have a vasectomy. For example:
- It cannot be reversed easily, and reversals are not commonly funded by the NHS.
- You will need to use contraception after the procedure until tests show the semen is sperm-free.
- You are not protected against sexually transmitted infections, meaning a barrier method of contraception (such as condoms) may be needed.
- The vas deferens tubes which carry the sperm can reconnect, although this is rare.
- There are potential complications, such as haematoma (when blood collects inside the scrotum), sperm granulomas (hard lumps caused by sperm draining from the tubes), long-term testicle pain which requires further surgery, and infection.