21st February, 20215 min read

What is a vasectomy?

Medical reviewer:
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Ann Nainan
Ana Mosciuk
Ana Mosciuk
Last reviewed: 18/02/2021
Medically reviewed

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When it comes to preventing pregnancy, there are lots of different types of contraception to choose from. What’s best for you will depend on your personal circumstances.

But if you know you don’t want children, you might be interested in a permanent form of birth control called a vasectomy – also known as male sterilisation.

Read on to find out what a vasectomy is, how it’s done and how effective it is. You’ll also learn about the benefits and potential risks, to help you decide if it’s right for you.

What is a vasectomy – and how painful is it?

A vasectomy is a permanent method of birth control, which is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

During sex, you can get your partner pregnant if sperm from your testes fertilises an egg from their ovaries. A vasectomy stops this from happening: it’s a small operation that cuts or seals the tubes that take sperm from your balls (testicles) to your penis.

After a vasectomy, you can still get an erection and come (ejaculate), but the fluid from your penis (semen) won’t have sperm in it. You can still enjoy sex in the same way as before and your sex drive (libido) isn't usually affected.

The operation takes about 15 minutes and it’s not painful, though you may feel some slight discomfort. You’ll be awake, but your ball sack (scrotum) will be numbed with a local anaesthetic. Occasionally, you may need a general anaesthetic, where you're asleep, but this is unusual.

How is a vasectomy done?

Your doctor will discuss which type of vasectomy is best for you. There are 2 types:

  1. conventional vasectomy – using a surgical knife (scalpel), a doctor makes 2 small cuts in the skin of your ball sack (scrotum) to reach the tubes that take sperm from your balls (testicles) to your penis. They cut and remove a small section of each tube, then tie the ends or seal them with heat. The cuts in your ball sack are closed with stitches.

  2. no-scalpel vasectomy – instead of 2 cuts, a doctor makes 1 tiny puncture hole in the skin of your ball sack (scrotum) to reach the tubes. The tubes are then tied or sealed in the same way as in a conventional vasectomy. You won’t need stitches and should heal more quickly.


How much does a vasectomy cost?

The cost of a vasectomy depends on where in the world you live.

In most parts of the UK, you can get a vasectomy for free. You might have to wait for months, however, and you can also pay to have it done privately (the price varies).

In the US, the cost also varies. A vasectomy may be free with some health insurance plans or government programmes, but can cost up to $1,000, including follow-up visits.

What are the benefits and risks of a vasectomy?

If you’re interested in having a vasectomy, you should speak to your doctor or healthcare provider for advice and to work out whether it’s right for you.

Some of the advantages of a vasectomy include:

  • more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy
  • low risk of long-term health issues
  • won’t change your sex life – your hormones, sex drive and pleasure aren’t affected
  • safer and simpler than female sterilisation

Although a vasectomy is generally very safe, like all operations it carries a small risk of complications, including:

  • short-term bleeding, swelling, and bruising
  • infection
  • hard, tender lumps under the skin, called sperm granuloma
  • a collection of blood inside the ball sack (scrotum), called haematoma
  • long-term ball (testicle) pain, which may need surgery

It’s also worth noting that a vasectomy doesn’t prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so you’ll still need to use a condom during sex for protection from STIs.

What’s the recovery time after a vasectomy?

After a vasectomy, you might feel uncomfortable and notice swelling and bruising of your ball sack (scrotum), but this should ease after a few days.

You can take simple painkillers, such as paracetamol, to help ease the pain and use an ice pack to help to reduce pain and swelling. See your doctor if simple painkillers are not helping.

It’s generally best to avoid strenuous activities – including sex – and lifting anything heavy for a week or so after a vasectomy.

You'll need to use another method of contraception for at least the first 8 to 12 weeks, as it can take this long to clear the remaining sperm in your tubes.

How long this takes varies. There's still a risk of pregnancy during this time.

Are vasectomies reversible?

Although a vasectomy reversal is possible, it’s sometimes difficult and isn’t always successful. It’s more likely to work if you have it as soon as possible.

If you have a reversal within 10 years of your vasectomy, there’s a 55% chance it will work. After this, the success rate drops to 25%.

When to see a doctor

After you’ve had a vasectomy, you should call your doctor if you have the following symptoms, as you may have an infection:

  • bad pain or swelling in your ball sack area (scrotum)
  • fever
  • bleeding or pus coming from the cut in the skin of your ball sack

Key points

  • a vasectomy is a permanent form of birth control that is more than 99% effective
  • it’s a relatively painless operation that takes about 15 minutes
  • there are 2 types of vasectomy – conventional and no-scalpel
  • it has several advantages, but also a small chance of complications
  • the recovery time is usually quick
  • a vasectomy is difficult to reverse
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