Birth Control: Vasectomy (Male Sterilization)

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 15, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Patricia Geraghty MSN, FNP-BC, WHNP on July 15, 2014

What Is a Vasectomy?

A vasectomy is a form of permanent birth control. It prevents sperm from being released during ejaculation. During the procedure, the vas deferens are cut or blocked. The vas deferens is the duct that carries sperm from the testicles to the urethra.

Although vasectomy is theoretically reversible, reversal does not always work. Men should consider vasectomy only if they are certain they are finished having children.

A vasectomy is one of the most effective methods of birth control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnancy will occur in less than two out of every 1,000 couples in which the man has had a vasectomy.

How Does a Vasectomy Work?

In order for a pregnancy to occur, sperm need to travel from the testicles to the man’s urethra. Sealing or cutting the vas deferens prevents sperm from reaching the urethra. A man who has had a vasectomy has no sperm in his ejaculate. His ejaculate cannot cause pregnancy.

How Is a Vasectomy Performed?

A vasectomy must be performed in a doctor’s office or medical facility. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss if vasectomy is the right method of birth control for you.

There are two different vasectomy methods. In one, two incisions are made to access the vas deferens on either side of the scrotum. In the other, a small hole is made to access both tubes. They are then both cut and sealed. Then stitches are put in place, if needed.

Vasectomy is usually performed under local anesthesia.  After the procedure, you will need to avoid sex for approximately a week. You should also avoid strenuous activities during that time.

How Effective is Vasectomy?

A vasectomy is nearly 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. It is the most effective birth control method for men. However, vasectomy is not immediately effective. Existing sperm need to be cleared out of your system before it is safe to have unprotected sex. This can take up to three months.

Your doctor will conduct a semen analysis so that you know when it is safe to have sex. For this test you will masturbate to provide a semen sample. It will be examined for the presence of any sperm.

What Are the Benefits of Vasectomy?

A vasectomy is an effective and permanent way to prevent pregnancy. It is best for men who are certain they do not want children. A vasectomy does not have any lasting effects on sexual activity or performance.

Vasectomies are easier and less expensive than female sterilization. Couples who have decided against having future children should discuss their options with a doctor.

What Are the Disadvantages of Vasectomy?

The main disadvantage of vasectomy is that it does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. It is also a permanent procedure. Reversal may be possible in some circumstances, but is not always an option. Reversal is more complicated than the initial procedure.

What Are the Risks of Vasectomy?

Potential short-term complications of vasectomy include:

  • swelling
  • bruising
  • bleeding inside the scrotum
  • blood in the semen
  • infection

Long-term complications of vasectomy are rare. They include:

  • fluid buildup in the testicle
  • chronic pain
  • pregnancy

It is uncommon for a vasectomy to spontaneously heal, but it can happen. If it does, your sexual partner may be at risk of pregnancy.

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