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Vasectomy

This factsheet is for men who are having a vasectomy, or people who would like information about it.

A vasectomy is an operation to cut and seal the tubes (called the vas deferens) that carry sperm from the testicles to your penis. A vasectomy is a permanent form of contraception and means that you can’t get your partner pregnant.

You will meet the doctor carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.

How a vasectomy is carried out

About vasectomy

A vasectomy is a permanent form of contraception and means that you can’t get your partner pregnant. However, after a vasectomy, one in 2,000 men will still get their partner pregnant. A vasectomy doesn't protect you or your partner from getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

A vasectomy won't affect your sex drive or ability to enjoy sex. You will still have erections and produce the same amount of fluid (semen) when you ejaculate. The only difference is that your semen won't contain sperm, which means that you can't get a woman pregnant.

Before you have a vasectomy, you should be sure that you no longer want to have children. Some men come to regret their decision to have a vasectomy. This is more likely if you're under 30, or haven’t had children before your vasectomy.

It’s possible to have a vasectomy reversal. However, this doesn't guarantee that your fertility will be restored.

What are the alternatives?

Alternatives to a vasectomy include long-term hormonal and non-hormonal contraceptive options for women. Wearing a condom during sexual intercourse can protect a woman from having unwanted pregnancies – both female and male condoms are available. Condoms also protect you and your partner against STIs.

Preparing for a vasectomy

Your doctor will explain how to prepare for your operation. For example, if you smoke you will be asked to stop, as smoking increases your risk of getting a wound infection, which can slow your recovery.

A vasectomy can be done in a hospital, GP practice or private clinic.

Most operations are done under local anaesthesia. This completely blocks pain in your groin area and you will stay awake during the operation.

Your doctor will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen, and you can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks, benefits and any alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead, which you may be asked to do by signing a consent form.

What happens during a vasectomy?

The operation takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your doctor will feel your testicles to find the vas deferens.

Your doctor may use a special forceps-like instrument to create a small opening in the skin above the vas deferens (known as the no-scalpel technique), or make one or two cuts (1 to 2cm long) in your scrotum.

Your doctor will pull out a section of each vas deferens and cut each tube. The ends of the tubes are then closed off, either by tying them or by heating the tissues so that the tubes seal shut.

The tubes are put back into your scrotum and the opening is closed using dissolvable stitches or adhesive strips.

Image of the organs of a male pelvis and a cut vas deferens after a vasectomy.

What to expect afterwards

After a local anaesthetic, it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your scrotum. Take special care not to bump or knock the area.

You may need pain relief to help with any discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off.

You will usually be able to go home when you feel ready.

Your nurse will give you advice about caring for your healing wounds before you go home. You may be given a date for a follow-up appointment.

The length of time your dissolvable stitches will take to disappear depends on what type you have. However, for this procedure they should usually disappear in about two weeks.

Recovering from a vasectomy

It usually takes about a week to make a full recovery from a vasectomy, but this varies between men, so it's important to follow your doctor’s advice.

If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

Wear close-fitting, supportive underwear (such as a jock strap) day and night, for the first week. This will support your scrotum and help to ease any discomfort and swelling.

Don't do any heavy lifting or vigorous exercise during the first week after your operation.You can have a shower, but dry the area gently and thoroughly afterwards.

Sex and contraception

After a vasectomy, some sperm remain in your vas deferens. How long these will remain varies from man to man.

You will be asked to give a semen sample to test whether your semen is clear of sperm. This test is usually done several months after your operation and may need to be repeated several times.

When the test shows no sperm, you will no longer be fertile. This is known as a sperm count of zero. See our common questions for more information.

You can have sex as soon as you feel comfortable, but you should use another form of contraception until these sperm have gone.

What are the risks?

As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with a vasectomy. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your surgeon to explain how these risks apply to you.

Side-effects

Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure. Side-effects of a vasectomy include pain, numbness, swelling or bruising in your scrotum. Wearing close-fitting underwear may ease any discomfort.

Complications

Complications are when problems occur during or after an operation. Possible complications of a vasectomy include:

  • infection
  • bleeding inside your scrotum (haematoma)
  • hard lumps in your testicles (sperm granulomas) caused by sperm leaking and collecting in the tissue – these aren't harmful, but can cause long-term pain in your testicles
  • a feeling of heaviness in your testicles – this happens when the sperm collecting tubes (epididymis) fill up with stored sperm
  • a vasectomy failure – very rarely, the vas deferens can rejoin naturally and restore your fertility

 

Produced by Stephanie Hughes, Bupa Health Information Team, March 2012. 

For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see Common questions.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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