A vasectomy is considered a permanent method of birth control. A vasectomy prevents the release of sperm when a man ejaculates.
During a vasectomy, the vas deferens from each testicle is clamped, cut, or otherwise sealed. This prevents sperm from mixing with the semen that is ejaculated from the penis. An egg cannot be fertilized when there are no sperm in the semen. The testicles continue to produce sperm, but the sperm are reabsorbed by the body. (This also happens to sperm that are not ejaculated after a while, regardless of whether you have had a vasectomy.) Because the tubes are blocked before the seminal vesicles and prostate, you still ejaculate about the same amount of fluid.
It usually takes several months after a vasectomy for all remaining sperm to be ejaculated or reabsorbed. You must use another method of birth control until you have a semen sample tested and it shows a zero sperm count. Otherwise, you can still get your partner pregnant.
Surgery to reconnect the vas deferens (vasectomy reversal) is available. But the reversal procedure is difficult. Sometimes a doctor can remove sperm from the testicle in men who have had a vasectomy or a reversal that didn't work. The sperm can then be used for in vitro fertilization. Both vasectomy reversal and sperm retrieval can be expensive, may not be covered by insurance, and may not always work.
Vasectomy is a safer, cheaper procedure that causes fewer complications than tubal ligation in women.footnote 1
Although vasectomy is expensive, it is a one-time cost and is often covered by medical insurance. The cost of other methods, such as birth control pills or condoms and spermicide, is likely to be greater over time.
During a vasectomy:
- Your testicles and scrotum are cleaned with an antiseptic and possibly shaved.
- You may be given an oral or intravenous (IV) medicine to reduce anxiety and make you sleepy. If you do take this medicine, you may not remember much about the procedure.
- Each vas deferens is located by touch.
- A local anesthetic is injected into the area.
- Your doctor makes one or two small openings in your scrotum. Through an opening, the two vas deferens tubes are cut. The two ends of the vas deferens are tied, stitched, or sealed. Electrocautery may be used to seal the ends with heat. Scar tissue from the surgery helps block the tubes.
- The vas deferens is then replaced inside the scrotum and the skin is closed with stitches that dissolve and do not have to be removed.
No-scalpel vasectomy is a technique that uses a small clamp with pointed ends. Instead of using a scalpel to cut the skin, the clamp is poked through the skin of the scrotum and then opened. The benefits of this procedure include less bleeding, a smaller hole in the skin, and fewer complications. No-scalpel vasectomy is as effective as traditional vasectomy.footnote 1
In the Vasclip implant procedure, the vas deferens is locked closed with a device called a Vasclip. The vas deferens is not cut, sutured, or cauterized (sealed by burning), which possibly reduces the potential for pain and complications. Some studies show that clipping is not as effective as other methods of sealing off the vas deferens.footnote 1
What To Expect
Your scrotum will be numb for 1 to 2 hours after a vasectomy. Apply cold packs to the area and lie on your back as much as possible for the rest of the day. Wearing snug underwear or a jockstrap will help ease discomfort and protect the area.
You may have some swelling and minor pain in your scrotum for several days after the surgery. Unless your work is strenuous, you will be able to return to work in 1 or 2 days. Avoid heavy lifting for a week.
You can resume sexual intercourse as soon as you are comfortable, usually in about a week. But you can still get your partner pregnant until your sperm count is zero. You must use another method of birth control until you have a follow-up sperm count test 2 months after the vasectomy (or after 10 to 20 ejaculations over a shorter period of time). Once your sperm count is zero, no other birth control method is necessary.
Most men go back to the doctor's office to have their sperm count checked. But there is also a home test available.
A vasectomy will not interfere with your sex drive, ability to have erections, sensation of orgasm, or ability to ejaculate. You may have occasional mild aching in your testicles during sexual arousal for a few months after the surgery.
Why It Is Done
A vasectomy is a permanent method of birth control. Only consider this method when you are sure that you do not want to have a child in the future.
How Well It Works
Vasectomy is a very effective (99.85%) birth control method. Only 1 to 2 women out of 1,000 will have an unplanned pregnancy in the first year after their partners have had a vasectomy.footnote 3
Risk of failure
Pregnancy may occur after vasectomy because of:
- Failure to use another birth control method until the sperm count is confirmed to be zero. It usually takes 10 to 20 ejaculations to completely clear sperm from the semen.
- Spontaneous reconnection of a vas deferens or an opening in one end that allows sperm to mix with the semen again. This is very rare.
The risk of complications after a vasectomy is very low. Complications may include:
- Bleeding under the skin, which may cause swelling or bruising.
- Infection at the site of the incision. In rare instances, an infection develops inside the scrotum.
- Sperm leaking from a vas deferens into the tissue around it and forming a small lump (sperm granuloma). This condition is usually not painful, and it can be treated with rest and pain medicine. Surgery may be needed to remove the granuloma.
- Inflammation of the tubes that move sperm from the testicles (congestive epididymitis).
- In rare cases, the vas deferens growing back together (recanalization) so the man becomes fertile again.
A no-scalpel vasectomy has some of the same risks as a traditional vasectomy, such as bleeding, infection, and pain. But these risks may be less with the no-scalpel vasectomy.
What To Think About
A vasectomy does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Condoms are the most effective method for preventing STIs. To protect yourself and your partner from STIs, use a condom every time you have sex.
If you are considering a vasectomy, be absolutely certain that you will never want to father a child.
A vasectomy is not usually recommended for men who are considering banking sperm in case they decide later to have children. Discuss other options with your partner and your health professional.
Some doctors or health insurance plans may require a waiting period from the time you request a vasectomy and the time the procedure is done. This time allows you to be certain about your decision.
Researchers are studying other male birth control methods, such as reversible vasectomy or hormonal methods. Reversible vasectomy involves plugging the vas deferens and then removing the plug when birth control is no longer wanted. Hormonal methods include pills or injections that the man would use to prevent sperm production. So far, no new method has been shown to be effective enough, with low side effects, to be marketed for men.
- Roncari D, Jou MY (2011). Female and male sterilization. In RA Hatcher, et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th rev. ed., pp. 435–482. New York: Ardent Media.
- Cook LA, et al. (2014). Scalpel versus no-scalpel incision for vasectomy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (3). DOI: 10.1002/14651858. Accessed November 10, 2017.
- Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45–74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.
Current as ofSeptember 26, 2018
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Sarah A. Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC, FACOG - Obstetrics and Gynecology, Reproductive Endocrinology
Current as of: September 26, 2018