Let’s talk about vasectomies

Although the burden of birth control is overwhelmingly (and unfairly) placed on women, the most effective form of birth control—besides abstinence—is a male vasectomy.

What is a vasectomy?

A vasectomy is a minor surgical procedure that stops sperm cells from making their way into semen. This means that when men who have had vasectomies ejaculate, there are no sperm cells available to fertilize an egg. A vasectomy is usually done with local anesthesia, and those who have vasectomies can go home the same day.

How is a vasectomy performed?

Sperm cells are produced in the testicles. After sperm are produced, they travel down tubes called the vas deferens and mix with other fluids to make semen. A vasectomy works by cutting the vas deferens, which prevents sperm from reaching semen.

There are two ways to perform a vasectomy: an incision vasectomy, and a no-scalpel vasectomy. 

In an incision vasectomy, two small incisions are made in the scrotum. In a no-scalpel vasectomy, one puncture is made. The vas deferens are then accessed through the incisions or puncture and blocked or cut. Then, the puncture or incisions are closed.

The procedure is done under local anesthesia, and takes about 20 minutes.

What’s the recovery like?

Swelling, bruising, and discomfort in the scrotum is common after vasectomies, though icing and over-the-counter pain medications can help. Those who have vasectomies are encouraged to rest for 24 hours after the procedure, and take it easy for a week after. Most are able to return to work two or three days after the procedure. It’s also best to wait a week or so before resuming sexual activity.

It’s a good idea to call the doctor if you have pus or oozing around the incision site, or if you’re experiencing a temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher. These can be signs of an infection.

How effective are vasectomies?

Vasectomies have a success rate of nearly 100%, making them one of the most effective forms of birth control besides outright abstinence. Semen can still contain sperm up to three months, or 20 ejaculations, so it’s recommended that at whichever of these points come first, semen should be tested for the presence of sperm.

After confirmation that semen is clear of sperm, the vasectomy can safely be considered birth control.

Can a vasectomy be reversed?

When getting a vasectomy, it makes sense to think of it as a permanent form of birth control. While they can often be reversed, the reversal surgery is much longer and more invasive, taking about 4 to 6 hours. There are also no guarantees that it will lead to a successful pregnancy.

Those who have had vasectomies do have other options, however. IVF is still a possibility for most, as sperm can be extracted surgically and used to fertilize an egg.

  • “Vasectomy.” Vasectomy: Treatment & Information – Urology Care Foundation, www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/vasectomy.
  • “Male Vasectomy Procedure: What Is a Vasectomy?” Planned Parenthood, www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/vasectomy.
  • “5 Facts You Should Know Before Having a Vasectomy – Penn Medicine.” – Penn Medicine, update 10 Nov. 2020, www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/fertility-blog/2019/march/5-facts-you-should-know-before-having-a-vasectomy.
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