When it comes to taking ownership of your sexual health, selecting an effective birth control method should be one of your most important considerations. Aside from abstinence, which means refraining from sexual intercourse entirely, vasectomies are considered to be the most effective birth control method. Few birth control options for couples are as effective or convenient as a vasectomy. Yet, when it comes to having an operation "down there," many men are naturally concerned.
Vasectomies are the male form of permanent sterilization, and they are safer and cheaper than the female version of permanent sterilization (which is known as tubal ligation). The word “vasectomy” may be vaguely familiar, but many men and women are curious about what the procedure entails. Read on to learn more about vasectomies and how Lompoc Valley Medical Center can be your ally when it comes to comprehensive men's health services.
What is a Vasectomy?
A vasectomy is a minor surgery that is typically performed by a specialist known as a urologist. During this minimally-invasive procedure, the surgeon disrupts the tubes that carry sperm cells from the testes to the outside of the body (these are known as the “vas deferens” tubes).
The vasectomy process effectively renders a male sterile, because if a male’s sperm cells cannot leave his body, then they cannot fertilize an egg and cause a pregnancy. For this reason, vasectomies are considered to be a form of permanent male sterilization.
How Common Are Vasectomies?
According to the Urology Care Foundation, about 500,000 men in the United States undergo vasectomies annually. When it comes to the popularity of birth control methods in the United States, vasectomies rank fourth behind condoms, the pill, and tubal ligation. The procedure has been performed in the United States for more than 120 years.
What Happens Before a Vasectomy?
Before you are eligible to undergo a vasectomy, you will need to have a pre-surgical counseling session with the urologist or other medical provider who will be performing the procedure. During this evaluation, your doctor will ask questions about your reproductive goals and your medical history. You will also be counseled to ensure that you understand the following:
- Vasectomies are permanent; though reversals are possible, they are not always successful.
- Vasectomies have a failure rate of less than one percent, meaning that a small minority of men will still have sperm cells present in their ejaculate after their vasectomy, and they may still be able to impregnate their female partner. If a vasectomy fails, a repeat vasectomy may be necessary.
- Vasectomies do not immediately take effect; you must have a semen analysis after the procedure to confirm that it has been successful. A back-up contraceptive method is required in the interim period, which is usually about three months.
What Happens During a Vasectomy?
Vasectomies can generally be performed in a doctor’s office or hospital operating room, depending on your particular medical situation. The surgeon will first numb your scrotum so that you don’t feel any pain. You may be offered a medication to help reduce your anxiety, as well.
The surgeon will then make a small cut in the skin of the scrotum in order to identify the vas deferens tube. He or she will use a tool, such as a clip or heated device, to split each vas deferens. Then, he or she will close the area using a simple stitch. Your surgeon may also offer a “no-scalpel” vasectomy option, which is even less invasive.
The vasectomy procedure itself usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
What is it Like Recovering From a Vasectomy?
It is common for men to have mild pain, bleeding, or swelling at the site of the vasectomy. Your surgeon will likely advise you to use a cold compress and over-the-counter pain medications (such as Ibuprofen) as needed to help with symptoms. They should improve after a few days.
You will also have certain restrictions, such as avoiding heavy lifting or ejaculation, for about one week following the procedure. You can typically return to your normal daily activities, such as work, after 1 to 2 days.
What Happens After a Vasectomy?
After a vasectomy, your testes will still produce sperm, but these sperm cells will no longer be able to travel up the vas deferens tube and then be ejaculated out of the body through your penis. Instead, the sperm cells will just be absorbed by your body. Some men may develop a small lump, known as a granuloma, where sperm cells collect in the scrotum, but this typically resolves over time.
How Long Does it Take For a Vasectomy to Work?
Vasectomies are not immediately effective. Generally, urologists suggest using a backup birth control method until a sperm sample shows that you are no longer releasing sperm into your ejaculate. Sperm testing usually occurs for about three months (or about 20 ejaculations) after your vasectomy.
Do Vasectomies Affect Sexual Function?
It is understandable to be concerned that a vasectomy may affect your sexual function; however, this is absolutely not the case. The removal of sperm from the ejaculate only decreases the volume of the ejaculate slightly (about 5 percent), and this decrease is imperceptible; men do not notice any difference when ejaculating. Vasectomies will not change the feeling or sensation of your erections, your experience of sexual intercourse, or your orgasms.
What Are the Potential Complications of a Vasectomy?
Complications arising from a vasectomy are very uncommon. However, because it is a minor surgery, a vasectomy can cause excessive bleeding or bruising at the incision site, an infection, or excessive swelling. A small number of men will have persistent scrotal pain following a vasectomy (this occurs in 1 to 2 percent of men, and may require further surgical intervention).
It is very rare that a vasectomy fails, but 1 to 2 women out of a thousand may get pregnant within a year of their partner’s vasectomy.
Vasectomies do not increase your chances of developing other health conditions such as prostate cancer.
Can a Vasectomy Be Reversed?
Even though vasectomies are considered to be a permanent form of sterilization, they can be reversed. Men may sometimes change their minds about this form of contraception because of a new partner, a new relationship, or new life goals. According to the Urology Care Foundation, up to 10 percent of men who get a vasectomy will ultimately have it reversed.
During the vasectomy reversal procedure, a urologist will reconnect the ends of the vas deferens tube that were separated during the initial vasectomy procedure. After the reversal procedure, it can take several months to achieve a pregnancy. Sometimes it is not possible for a vasectomy to be successfully reversed.
Do Vasectomies Protect Against Sexually Transmitted Infections?
Simply put, vasectomies cannot prevent you from contracting a sexually transmitted infection; they can only prevent pregnancy. In order to prevent a sexually transmitted infection, it is important to use a condom.
How to Learn More About Vasectomies
To learn more about vasectomies, you can visit our provider page to make an appointment with one of our specialists. You can also check out these vasectomy resources from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.