What are the benefits of a vasectomy?

Vasectomy offers many advantages as a method of birth control. Like female sterilization, it is a highly effective, one-time procedure that provides permanent contraception. Compared to female sterilization, vasectomy is simpler, more effective, can be performed on an outpatient basis, has fewer complications and is much less expensive.

What does the procedure involve?

The procedure is performed under local anesthesia in an outpatient surgery center or doctor’s office. The surgeon feels for the sperm-carrying tubes, or vas deferens, under the skin of the scrotum and holds it in place. Then a special instrument is used to make a tiny puncture in the skin and stretch the opening so the vas deferens can be cut and tied. There is little discomfort, though some men feel a slight “tugging” sensation. This approach produces very little bleeding, and no stitches are needed to close the incision. Generally, the procedure takes less than 20 minutes.

What happens to sperm after a vasectomy?

After vasectomy, the testes continue to make sperm. When the sperm cells die, they disintegrate and are absorbed by the body. This is the same way the body handles other types of cells that die and are replaced on a daily basis.

Can I discontinue other birth control methods right away?

No. Sperm can remain in the vas deferens above the operative site for weeks or even months after vasectomy. You will not be considered sterile until two post-surgical semen tests, usually performed between eight to 12 weeks post-vasectomy, show that no sperm remain. Until then, you must continue to use other birth control to prevent pregnancy.

Is a vasectomy 100 percent effective?

Other than total abstinence, no method of birth control is 100 percent effective. In rare cases, it is possible for sperm to find its way across the void between the two blocked ends of the vas deferens. Called recanalization, it generally occurs within the first few months following vasectomy. However, the failure rate of vasectomy is very low. It has been used for many years as a means of sterilization and has a long track record as a safe and effective method of contraception.

If dead or live sperm continue to appear in the semen samples, or if sperm are discovered after a period of sterility, a repeat vasectomy will be necessary. Fortunately, the medical literature shows that this only happens approximately once in every 1,000 cases, a failure rate far less than for any other form of birth control.

Can I have it reversed later if I choose?

Vasectomy should be considered a permanent means of birth control. Reversing a vasectomy is difficult, expensive and many times unsuccessful. The decision should be considered along with other contraceptive options and discussed with a professional counselor. Men who are married or in a serious relationship also should discuss this issue with their partners. If you're thinking about a reversal now, perhaps you should take more time to decide whether vasectomy is right for you.