Vasectomy is a permanent form of contraception that involves cutting and blocking off the tubes in the groin (the vas) that carry sperm from the testicles to the penis. The chances of pregnancy after a vasectomy are around one in 1,000.
Vasectomy is an operation designed to sterilise a man. This permanent form of contraception involves cutting and blocking off the tubes in the groin (the vas) that carry sperm from the testicles to the penis. Existing sperm are reabsorbed into the body over time with no ill effects.
The chances of pregnancy after having a vasectomy are around one in 1,000. The operation doesn’t interfere with a man’s sexual desire or his ability to reach orgasm. The production of male hormones, which takes place inside the testicles, is not affected. Despite previous concerns, there is no proven link to prostate cancer or heart disease.
The structure of the penis and testicles
Male reproductive cells, or sperm, are made and stored inside the testicles. During orgasm, muscular contractions push sperm from the testicles through tubes called the vas deferens. Along the way, fluid from structures called the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland is added to the sperm. The fluid, now called semen, is pushed into another tube called the urethra, which extends to the tip of the penis. Urine also leaves the body via the urethra. Muscular contractions force the semen out of the urethra in spurts, a process called ejaculation.
A vasectomy involves cutting the vas deferens and sometimes tying them off. This operation prevents the sperm from leaving the testicles. This doesn’t interfere with a man’s sexual pleasure and he can still have an orgasm, even though the ejaculate will contain only seminal fluid. The production of the male hormones will also continue unaffected. The body will harmlessly reabsorb any existing sperm inside the testicles over a period of time.
Usually, the operation is performed using local anaesthetic, although some men prefer a general anaesthetic. The testicles are shaved and a small cut is made on either side of the scrotum. The surgeon then loops out each vas deferens.
The three different vasectomy techniques include:
- Cutting and sometimes tying the vas deferens
- Removing a small piece from each vas deferens
- Sealing the vas deferens with heat using a diathermy machine.
After the operation
The scrotum will most likely be bruised and tender after the operation. It is important to rest for a couple of days and avoid running, swimming or any other physical activity. Sex can be resumed after a few days.
If the testicles become swollen or painful, or if the wounds start to weep, there may be an infection. Treatment options include antibiotics and dressings. Occasionally, a man will experience prolonged groin tenderness.
The chances of pregnancy after having a vasectomy are around one in 1,000. However, it can take some time for the testicles to reabsorb existing sperm after a vasectomy. It is important to use another form of contraception until tests detect zero sperm in the ejaculate. This usually takes three to four months, but can occasionally take up to six months.
Reversing the operation
A man usually decides to have a vasectomy after he and his partner have completed their family. However, it is common for men entering a subsequent relationship to want to conceive with their new partner. Although in most cases reversals are technically possible, they have a variable success rate.
The likelihood of a successful reversal depends on the way the vasectomy was performed and the length of time since the operation. As time goes on, the chances of sperm functioning normally are reduced. Some surgeons recommend that a man make sperm bank deposits before having a vasectomy, just in case he changes his mind in the future about having more children.
Protection against STIs
It is important to practice safe sex as well as protect yourself against pregnancy. Vasectomy does not provide protection against sexually transmissible infections (STIs). The best way to reduce the risk of STIs is to use protection such as male and female condoms and dams (a thin piece of latex placed over the anal or vulval area during oral sex). Condoms can be used for oral, vaginal and anal sex (in conjunction with other methods of contraception where required) to help prevent the spread of infections.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Vasectomy clinic
- Family Planning Victoria Tel. 1800 013 952 or (03) 9257 0100
Things to remember
- A vasectomy is an operation designed to sterilise a man by cutting the tubes that allow sperm to leave the testicles.
- A man’s sex drive, production of sex hormones and ability to reach orgasm are all unaffected.
- Some men could consider storing sperm, in the event they change their mind.
You might also be interested in:
- Contraception - choices.
- Contraception - condoms for men.
- Contraception - emergency contraception.
- Contraception - injections for men.
- Contraception - the Billings method.
Want to know more?
Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
(Logo links to further information)
Family Planning Victoria
Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: July 2011
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