A vasectomy is the name given to male sterilisation, and it's a surgical procedure where the tubes that carry a man's sperm are cut or sealed. There are many reasons why a man might want to have a vasectomy. It might be that their female partner wants to stop hormonal contraception but they don't want anymore children, or he might decide he's happy with the size of his family and wants to have a vasectomy so they don't have to worry about using other forms of contraception.
How does a vasectomy work?
It works by stopping the sperm getting into the mans semen (the fluid that comes out when he ejaculates). The tubes, which carry the sperm from the testicles to the penis are either cut, blocked or sealed. Carried out successfully, the semen will have no sperm in so a woman's egg cannot be fertilised.
What happens in the vasectomy procedure?
Although a vasectomy is a surgical procedure, it's usually carried out under a local anaesthetic, but although you're awake, you won't feel any pain. The whole procedure should take a total of 15 minutes. In some cases, you may be administered a general anaesthetic. In most cases you should be able to return home on the same day.
There are two different types of vasectomy and your doctor will discuss what option is best for you:
• A vasectomy using a scalpel - the scrotum is numbed with a local anaesthetic. Then two small cuts are made into the skin on each side of the scrotum to reach the tubes that carry the sperm (vas deferens). Each tube is cut and a small section is removed. The ends of the tubes are then closed either by tying them or sealing with heat. The scrotum cuts are then stitched using dissolvable stitches.
• A non-scalpel vasectomy - the scrotum is numbed with a local anaesthetic. A tiny puncture hole is then made into the scrotum to reach the tubes which are then cut, before being tied or sealed. There are no stitches and very little bleeding so it's thought to be less painful with less potential complications.
How long is the recovery process?
It's normal to experience mild discomfort after having a vasectomy. This might include some swelling and bruising, but it should be relieved by painkillers such as paracetamol.
Don't worry if you find blood in your semen during the first few ejaculations after the surgery. This is very common and isn't anything to worry about.
Be sure to wear tight fitting underwear with plenty of support for the first few days and make sure you change it daily. It's safe to have a bath or shower after the operation (providing your doctor doesn't say otherwise), just make sure you dry your scrotum throughly afterwards.
You're usually fine to return to work after one or two days following a vasectomy, just avoid heavy lifting or sports for at least a week. If you still don't feel quite right, make sure you speak to your GP.
When it comes to sex, try and avoid any sexual activity for at least seven days after the procedure. Just make sure to use another method of contraception such as condoms for the first eight to 12 weeks after the vasectomy as it can take some time for all the sperm to clear in your tubes.
How reliable is a vasectomy?
According to the NHS, a vasectomy is more than 99 per cent effective.
Around 12 weeks after your vasectomy, you'll be asked to produce a semen sample which will be tested for sperm. Once it's been confirmed that there is no sperm present in your semen, you're safe to have sex without additional contraception.
If sperm is still present, you might be asked to produce another sample and your doctor may discuss your options with you. In very rare cases, tubes can naturally rejoin themselves, but as mentioned, this is very rare.
Can vasectomies be reversed?
A vasectomy is considered a permanent procedure, but vasectomies can be reversed - read more about vasectomy reversal here.Just be mindful that they're not always successful and they're not always funded by the NHS.
If you're considering a vasectomy and want to learn more about your options, it's a good idea to speak to your GP before making any decisions.