Vasectomy and impotence
An estimated 500,000 men undergo a vasectomy in the United States each year, according to the American Urological Association. A vasectomy is a procedure that blocks the sperm from mixing with seminal fluid. Without sperm, a woman can’t get pregnant.
One of the common concerns for people considering a vasectomy is impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED), which is the inability to sustain an erection or ejaculate. However, the risk for impotency from this procedure is extremely rare. Some men even report better sex lives after vasectomy, according to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO).
How is a vasectomy done?
A vasectomy is a fast, outpatient procedure, meaning you don’t have to visit the hospital and you can go home the same day. The doctor may recommend taking two or three days off from work and avoiding heavy lifting and sexual activity for a week.
The procedure typically:
- takes about 20 minutes or less
- takes place in a doctor’s office or medical setting
- doesn’t involve stitches
- involves the use of local anesthesia
The pain is often described as minor. Only 2 to 3 percent of men report chronic pain or discomfort after the procedure, according to FIGO.
Why the procedure won’t cause impotence
The most common approach is the percutaneous, or no-scalpel vasectomy. Your surgeon will feel for the area under the scrotum, known as the vas deferens. The vas deferens carries the sperm that mixes with the ejaculate. They’ll make a hole so they can tie the vas deferens. This is process won’t affect erections and your ability to climax.
Erections and climax involve:
- stimulating nerves
- increasing blood flow to the penis
- creating muscle contractions
- mental stimulation
The vans deferens only affects the sperm, which the body will continue to make. Since sperm is common with other cell types, your body will absorb them naturally.
It’s important to note that protection against pregnancy isn’t immediate. It takes three months or 20 ejaculates before the ejaculate is sperm-free.
You’ll need to revisit the doctor’s office after three months to test for the presence of semen.
Is impotence a risk?
Getting ED from a vasectomy is rare. The strongest link between ED and vasectomy is mostly mental. Depression and stress can increase your chances of ED. Those feelings can interfere with sexual feelings. If you’re concerned about ED and vasectomy, you may find comfort that there’s almost no connection between the two.
Doctors have been performing vasectomies since the last 1800s. With more than a hundred years of research about vasectomies, there’s never been significant evidence that they cause impotency.
Surgeries linked to ED involve the prostate or pelvic area. A vasectomy doesn’t involve the penis, testicles, or other internal organs.
What won’t happen after vasectomy
There’re often misconceptions or other concerns about vasectomy and side effects. A vasectomy only means that the ejaculate will not have sperm and can’t fertilize the egg. Sperm makes up less than 3 percent of your ejaculate. There’s no change in the look, taste, and amount of semen after a vasectomy.
A vasectomy also won’t:
- affect masculinity or sexuality
- affect your testosterone levels
- change the volume of your ejaculate
- damage to other sexual organs
- cause severe pain
- prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
According to the University of Iowa, the report that prostate cancer and vasectomy is linked has also been disproven.
Ask your doctor if you have specific questions and concerns. You may feel more relaxed if you address your concerns before the surgery.
Risks associated with vasectomy
A vasectomy is a minor procedure, but there are other risks you should be aware of. Call your doctor right away if there are signs of an infection like bleeding or increasing pain.
Some immediate problems after vasectomy include:
- bleeding in the scrotum or from the wound
- bleeding in the semen
- bruising in the scrotum
- infection around the cuts
- mild pain
Long-term effects, although less common, include:
- persistent pain
- fluid buildup in the testicle that causes pain on ejaculation
- pregnancy due to failed vasectomy
- swelling of the scrotum
Will a vasectomy reversal affect impotence?
Just as a vasectomy doesn’t cause ED, a vasectomy reversal won’t either. Testosterone production remains unaffected during both procedures.
A vasectomy reversal is a surgical procedure that involves reconnecting the cut ends of the vas deferens. According to the American Urological Association, an estimated 10 percent of men who get a vasectomy will look into getting a reversal.
This procedure takes longer than the vasectomy procedure because it has more steps. It’s possible for you to have the reversal procedure done even decades after the vasectomy.
Just as it’s important to fully consider the implications of having a vasectomy, it’s important to think about the reversal. While the opportunity for reversal is reassuring, an increased number of reversals will decrease the success rate.
A vasectomy is a method of birth control. Although it’s a low-risk procedure, it’s possible to get infections, chronic pain, and other complications after the vasectomy. However, a vasectomy doesn’t directly cause impotence or affect your sexuality. The body’s process for erections and climaxing is unrelated to the procedure.
If you’re thinking about having a vasectomy, you may wish to do the following before undergoing the procedure:
- Consider if you’re committed to no longer having children.
- Talk to your partner about your decision and the long-term effects.
- Talk to your doctor about the procedure and side effects.
- Ask what you should bring with you the day of the procedure, and arrange for someone to drive you home.
- Know what the potential side effects are and when you should call your doctor.
A vasectomy won’t prevent STIs, and it will take three months or 20 ejaculates before the fluid is sperm-free. You can reverse a vasectomy many years later if you change your mind about having children.
Will I shoot blanks after a vasectomy?
When people say “shooting blanks” they usually mean that they cannot get a woman pregnant because there is no sperm in the ejaculate. That is why men have a vasectomy to prevent pregnancy, but remember that it takes about three months for the sperm to be gone, so you need to use other protection until then. Also, sperm makes up a very small percentage of the volume of the ejaculate (less than 3 percent), so you shouldn’t notice any change in the amount of ejaculate either.Suzanne Falck, MD, FACPAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.