Expert reviewer, Professor Raj Persad, Consultant Urological Surgeon
Next review due October 2020

A vasectomy is an operation to cut, block or seal the tubes that carry sperm from your testicles to your penis. A vasectomy is a permanent form of contraception – once it's done, you don't have to think about contraception again. But it won’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

You’ll meet the doctor who’s going to do your procedure to discuss your care. It may be different from what we’ve described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.

About vasectomy

A vasectomy works by stopping your sperm from getting into your semen – semen is a thick, whitish liquid that’s produced by the sex organs of men. A vasectomy is a reliable way to prevent pregnancy – it’s more than 99% effective. Out of 2,000 men who have a vasectomy, only one man will get a woman pregnant during the rest of his lifetime.

After a vasectomy, you can’t have children (biologically). So you should be absolutely sure that you no longer want to have children before you have the procedure. It’s important to remember that circumstances can change, and it’s possible that you might come to regret your decision. Take your time in making the decision, and talk things through with your partner if you have one. You might find it helps to talk to friends and family too. Your GP can help you make your decision by explaining all your options.

Although it’s possible to have a vasectomy reversed, this doesn't always work, so you might not restore your fertility. And it isn’t usually possible to have it reversed on the NHS. To learn more about this, see our separate topic, Vasectomy reversal.

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. Smoking can increase your risk of getting a chest and wound infection, which can slow your recovery.

You can have a vasectomy in a hospital, in a GP practice or in a private clinic.

It’s a good idea to take some close-fitting, supportive underwear, such as tight pants or a jock strap, with you to the hospital or clinic. They’ll be ideal to wear when you go home because they’ll support your scrotum and help to ease any discomfort and swelling after your procedure.

Most operations are done using local anaesthesia. This will completely block pain in your groin area and you’ll stay awake during the operation. Or you might be able to have a general anaesthetic, and be asleep, but this is less common.

Your doctor will have gone through everything in detail before you get to the point where you go for your vasectomy. They’ll also have given you the opportunity to ask questions about the risks, benefits and alternatives to the procedure. Once you get to hospital, clinic or GP surgery, they’ll go over what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. You should have all the information you need to give your consent for the vasectomy to go ahead. You’ll be asked to sign a consent form beforehand.

What are the alternatives to vasectomy?

Alternatives to a vasectomy include hormonal and non-hormonal contraceptive options for women, as well as condoms (for women and men). Condoms also protect you and your partner against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

What happens during a vasectomy?

Your procedure will usually take no more than half an hour.

Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your doctor will feel your testicles to find the tubes that carry sperm from your testicles to your penis. These are called the vas deferens.

There are two main ways to do the procedure.

  • No-scalpel technique. Your doctor will use a clamp to encircle and firmly hold the vas deferens without penetrating your skin. They’ll then use a small pair of forceps to puncture a small opening in your skin, above the vas deferens. The same puncture hole can be used for the opposite vas deferens, or your doctor can make a separate puncture.
  • Conventional technique. Your doctor will make one or two cuts, about 1cm to 2cm long, in your scrotum with a surgical knife to access the vas deferens.

After your doctor has used one of the methods above, they’ll pull out a section of each vas deferens and cut each tube. They’ll then close off the ends of the tubes by either by tying them or heating the tissues so that the tubes seal shut. This blocks sperm from entering your semen.

Finally, your doctor will put the tubes back into your scrotum and close the opening with dissolvable stitches or adhesive strips.

What to expect afterwards

It may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your scrotum, so take special care not to bump or knock yourself.

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

You’ll usually be able to go home after about 20 minutes if you feel ready. It’s a good idea to have a friend or family member drive you home. Your surgeon or nurse will give you some advice about caring for the wounds in your scrotum before you leave. They might also give you a date for a follow-up appointment.

How long it takes for your dissolvable stitches to disappear will depend on what type you have but they’ll usually disappear in about a week to 10 days.

Recovering from a vasectomy

It usually takes a few days to a week to make a full recovery from a vasectomy, but this can vary, so follow your surgeon's advice.

If you need something to help with the pain, you can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. But don’t take aspirin because it can increase your risk of bleeding. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

It’s best to wear close-fitting, supportive underwear, such as tight pants or a jock strap, day and night, for the first few days. These will support your scrotum and help to ease any discomfort and swelling.

Don't lift anything heavy or do any strenuous exercise during the first few days after your operation.

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. And dry your genital area gently and thoroughly afterwards by dabbing it.

Sex and contraception

You can have sex as soon as you feel comfortable but it’s best to wait about a week. Some sperm will remain in the tubes to your penis after a vasectomy. How long these will remain can vary, so use another form of contraception until you get the all clear.

Your doctor will test a sample of your semen a few months after your operation to see whether your tubes are clear of sperm. They may need repeat the test several times.

When the test comes back negative for sperm, you’ll no longer be fertile. For more information, see our FAQ: How long will it take for my sperm count to be zero?

A vasectomy won't affect your sex drive or ability to enjoy sex. You’ll still have erections and produce the same amount of semen when you ejaculate. The only difference is that your semen won't contain sperm, which means you can't make your partner pregnant. For more information about sex after a vasectomy, see our FAQ: Will my sex drive be affected by a vasectomy?

Side-effects of vasectomy

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

Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure. You might have some bruising and swelling in your scrotum for a few days after a vasectomy. If you wear close-fitting underwear, it might help to ease this. You might also get a small amount of clear, yellow fluid seeping out of your penis several days later, and blood in the semen the first few times you ejaculate.

Complications of vasectomy

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

  • an infection
  • bleeding inside your scrotum – this is called a haematoma
  • hard lumps in your testicles, called sperm granulomas
  • long-term pain in your testicles
  • a feeling of heaviness in your testicles – this can happen if the sperm collecting tubes (epididymis) fill-up with stored sperm
  • a vasectomy failure – very rarely, the tubes that carry sperm from your testicles to your penis (vas deferens) can rejoin naturally and restore your fertility

Frequently asked questions

  • It usually takes about 10 weeks before your sperm count is zero, but this depends on how many times you ejaculate and your age.

    After your vasectomy, you’ll still have some sperm in the tubes that carry sperm from your testicles to your penis. This means there’s a chance you could get your partner pregnant in the period soon after the procedure. For this reason, it’s important to use another form of contraception until your semen doesn’t contain any sperm.

    After your vasectomy, you’ll need to have your semen tested to check if any sperm are in it. When you have this test can vary but it’s usually about 12 weeks after your operation.

    If there aren’t any sperm in the sample, you won’t need another test. If there are, you might need to have another test around two to four weeks later.

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

  • No, there’s no evidence that a vasectomy will increase your risk of prostate or testicular cancer.

    Increase in the rate of prostate or testicular cancer diagnosed after a vasectomy is likely to be because of increased detection. You'll be visiting your doctor and having a detailed examination before and after your vasectomy. 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 examine your testicles regularly and report any unusual signs or symptoms to your GP. To learn more about how to check yourself, see our topic: Testicular cancer awareness.

  • No, a vasectomy won't affect your sex drive (libido); that will be the same as before your operation. 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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  • Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, October 2017
    Expert reviewer, Professor Raj Persad, Consultant Urological Surgeon
    Next review due October 2020

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