Expert reviewer, Professor Raj Persad, Consultant Urological Surgeon
Next review due April 2023

A vasectomy is a form of permanent contraception in men. It involves a minor procedure to block the tubes that carry sperm from a man’s testicles to his penis.

If you have this procedure, you’ll still be able to have sex in the same way and will still produce semen (ejaculate). But your semen won’t contain sperm, so you won’t be able to get a woman pregnant.

Deciding on vasectomy

If you’re considering a vasectomy, you’ll need to book an appointment for an assessment first. This can be with your GP or at a contraceptive or sexual health clinic. If you have a current partner, it’s best for them to go with you because your doctor will want to talk though all your contraceptive options. The doctor will ask you about your (and your partner’s) medical history. They’ll go through all the alternative types of contraception with you, as well as the benefits and risks of vasectomy. Here are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of vasectomy to consider.

  • A vasectomy is a very effective type of contraception – it’s rare for it not to work.
  • Vasectomy is safer, quicker to perform, and has lower risk of complications than sterilisation procedures for women.
  • As vasectomy is a permanent form of contraception, you should be absolutely sure that you don’t want children, or any more children, before having the procedure. It’s important to remember that circumstances can change, and it’s possible that you might regret your decision later.
  • You’re likely to have some pain, bruising and swelling after the procedure, and there’s a potential risk of more serious complications. See our section on complications for more information.
  • Vasectomy doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you need protection from STIs, you’ll need to use an additional contraceptive.
  • It takes a few weeks to become completely sterile after the procedure. You’ll need to carry on using contraception during this time.
  • Although it’s possible to have a vasectomy reversal, this doesn't always work and might not restore your fertility. This is why you should consider vasectomy to be permanent. It also isn’t usually possible to have a vasectomy reversal on the NHS, so you would need to pay to have this done privately.

Your doctor will also examine you to check you don’t have any medical problems that might prevent you having a vasectomy or would make the procedure more difficult.

Do ask your doctor if you have any questions, or need any more explanation about the procedure. You’ll be asked to sign a consent form before the procedure, so it’s important that you feel fully informed. Your doctor will usually give you some written information to take away too. Take your time in making the decision, and talk things through with your partner if you have one.

Preparing for a vasectomy

Your doctor will explain how to prepare for your procedure. For example, if you smoke, it’s a good idea to quit before any operation. Smoking can increase your risk of infection and other complications after surgery, and slow your recovery.

Vasectomy is usually done as a day-case procedure at a clinic or hospital, under local anaesthesia. This means you’ll be able to go home on the same day. The local anaesthetic will completely block pain in your groin area, and you’ll stay awake during the operation. Some GPs are also able to offer vasectomy. Your GP will tell you if this is an option at your surgery.

Sometimes, you may need a general anaesthetic, which means you’ll be asleep during the procedure, but this is less common. Your doctor may recommend general anaesthesia if you’ve had previous surgery in your genital area or you have other medical conditions that may make the procedure more difficult.

It’s a good idea to take some close-fitting, supportive underwear or an athletic/scrotal support with you to the hospital or clinic. It will be ideal to wear when you go home because it will support your scrotum and help to ease any discomfort and swelling after your procedure.

On the day of your procedure, your doctor will go through all the details of the surgery with you again and check you’re still happy to go ahead.

What happens during a vasectomy?

A vasectomy usually takes around 10 to 15 minutes.

If you’re having a local anaesthetic, your doctor will give this as an injection into the skin and tissue around your scrotum. You’ll need an injection on each side. The injection can be a bit painful, but your doctor will use a very fine needle to reduce any discomfort as much as possible. Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your skin here will be numb. If you do feel any pain, tell your doctor and they may be able to give you a painkiller or more anaesthetic.

There are a few slight differences in how the procedure can be done. For instance, your doctor might make one or two small cuts in your skin to reach the vas deferens. This is the tube in your testicles that carries sperm to your penis. Or, they might make small puncture holes to reach it if they’re using the ‘no scalpel’ technique. They’ll cut each vas deferens then close off the ends of the tubes either by tying them, inserting plugs, or heating the tissues to seal them shut.

The puncture holes in your skin may be small enough to not need stitches. But if you do need them, your doctor will use dissolvable stitches or adhesive strips.

What to expect afterwards

It may take several hours before the feeling comes back in your scrotum, so take care not to bump or knock yourself. It’s a good idea to start taking over-the-counter painkillers to help with any pain before the anaesthetic wears off. You’ll be able to go home as soon as you feel ready. It’s a good idea to have a friend or family member drive you home as you’re likely to be in some discomfort. Before you leave, your doctor or nurse will give you some advice about your recovery and information about follow-up appointments.

Recovering from a vasectomy

You may feel some discomfort for up to a week after your vasectomy. You’re likely to have some swelling, bruising and pain around your scrotum. You may also have some clear, yellow fluid coming from your wound a few days after the procedure. Take it easy for the first few days – get plenty of rest and don't lift anything heavy or do any strenuous exercise. Arrange to take some time off work if you need to.

If you need something to help with the pain, take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Wear close-fitting, supportive underwear such as tight pants, or a scrotal or athletic support for the first few days – both day and night. This will support your scrotum and help to ease any discomfort and swelling.

It’s best to wait a day or two until you have a shower but don’t have a bath until your wound has healed. Dry your genital area gently and thoroughly afterwards by dabbing it.

You should wait for between two and seven days before having sex, and then you should use contraception until your doctor has confirmed you’re sterile. You might have some blood in your semen the first few times you ejaculate.

If you have stitches, they’ll usually disappear within two to three weeks.

Post-vasectomy tests

It can take several weeks to become sterile after having a vasectomy. This is because some sperm will remain in the tubes to your penis after the procedure. How long these take to go can vary, so don’t stop using other forms of contraception until you get the all clear.

Your doctor will test a sample of your semen around 12 weeks after your operation to see whether your tubes are clear of sperm. They’ll be able to tell you whether you’re sterile or need to repeat the test again later. For more information, see our FAQ: How long will it take for my sperm count to be zero?

Complications of vasectomy

Complications are problems that happen during or after the procedure. Most men don’t have any long-term problems following vasectomy. But it’s important to be aware of the potential risks before you have the procedure. Possible complications of a vasectomy include the following.

  • An infection. This is estimated to affect fewer than two in 100 men. Seek medical attention if your scrotum becomes red, tender or swollen and you have a fever. You may need antibiotics.
  • Bleeding inside your scrotum. This is called a haematoma and will need further treatment.
  • Hard lumps in your testicles, called sperm granulomas. You might need another procedure to remove these.
  • Long-term pain in your testicles. This isn’t a problem for most men but if you are affected, medicines and, rarely, more surgery can help to relieve it.
  • A feeling of heaviness in your testicles (epididymitis).This can happen if the sperm collecting tubes (epididymis) fill-up with stored sperm.
  • Failure of the vasectomy. It’s possible for the vasectomy to not work. You may find this out when you go for your post-vasectomy sperm counts. Very rarely (in around 1 in 2000 men), the tubes carrying sperm from your testicles to your penis can rejoin after you’ve already had a negative sperm count. This means that you’ll be fertile again, and is called ‘late failure’ because it can happen years after your vasectomy.

Frequently asked questions

  • It’s estimated that, for about eight in 10 men, sperm will be cleared by 12 weeks after a vasectomy. It might take less or more time for you. This will depend on several things including how many times you ejaculate and your age.

    A vasectomy can only be said to have been a success once your sperm count is zero. Only then should you stop using other forms of contraception. You’ll be asked to have your semen tested around 12 weeks after your vasectomy, to check if there are any sperm in it. If there aren’t any sperm in the sample, you won’t need another test. If there are, you’ll need to have another test around two to four weeks later.

    Sometimes, you may just have a few sperm that can't swim properly (non-motile sperm) in your semen. This very rarely leads to a pregnancy so your doctor may advise that you can stop using other contraception. If non-motile sperms are present in your semen, your doctor will discuss your options with you.

  • No, there’s no evidence of an increase in testicular cancer after a vasectomy. Although there have been some studies suggesting a weak association with prostate cancer, this is most likely due to increased detection after vasectomy. You'll be visiting your doctor and having a detailed examination before and after your vasectomy. And you may be more likely to have a PSA test for prostate cancer too. This is why it's more likely that an existing cancer may be discovered.

    After a vasectomy, as for all men, it’s important to be aware of any changes in your testicles. Examine your testicles regularly and report any unusual signs or symptoms to your GP.

  • No, a vasectomy won't affect your sex drive (libido) or your ability to enjoy sex. You’ll still produce testosterone, the male hormone that controls your sex drive. A vasectomy only affects the tubes that carry sperm out of your testicles, your testosterone production isn’t affected.

    A vasectomy won't affect your ability to have erections, achieve orgasm or ejaculate, and you’ll still produce semen. When you ejaculate, your semen will look the same, and you’ll produce the same amount, but it just won't contain sperm.

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Related information

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    • Contraception – sterilization., last revised June 2016
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    • Personal communication, Raj Persad, Consultant Urological Surgeon, 10th March 2020
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  • Reviewed by Pippa Coulter, Freelance Health Editor, April 2020
    Expert reviewer, Professor Raj Persad, Consultant Urological Surgeon
    Next review due April 2023