What is a vasectomy and how much does it cost?

27th October, 2022 • 12 min read

If you and your partner know you don’t want children – or if you don’t want any more children – could something like a vasectomy be the answer? You only have to Google ‘how do women feel about vasectomies’ to see there are a lot of us who’d love our partners to consider one.

“Instead of a woman having to use hormonal contraception to prevent pregnancy, a vasectomy can give a couple confidence in the bedroom – and it’s a one-off, quicker, cheaper and easier surgical procedure than any kind of operation a woman might need to go through for sterilization,” says Dr Ann Nainan, a doctor and Healthily expert.

“In fact, it has the lowest failure rate of any other birth control method – it’s over 99% effective, so only 1 in 1,000 couples will

get pregnant
. What’s more, the number of both men and couples in the US enquiring about vasectomies is rising. But it’s important to remember that a vasectomy is considered permanent, so it’s only suitable if you don’t want children, or any more children,” adds Dr Ann.

So here’s what you need to know about this female-friendly contraception option, with tips on how to talk to your partner about it to work out if it’s right for you.

What is a vasectomy?

During sex, you can get pregnant if sperm from a man’s testes fertilises an egg from your ovaries. But this can’t happen if there’s no sperm in your partner’s semen (cum), which is exactly what happens after a vasectomy operation.

The procedure involves cutting, blocking or sealing the tubes that carry sperm from your partner’s balls (scrotum) to their penis. This stops sperm from being released into your partner’s semen, making it a permanent method of birth control and helping you both avoid pregnancy.

What happens before a vasectomy?

Once you’ve spoken to a doctor and got the go ahead, there are a few things you’ll need to think about and prepare for.

For example, your partner will need to:

  • stop taking aspirin,
    nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
    or other blood-thinning medications a few days before surgery, including
    ibuprofen
  • bring a pair of tight-fitting underwear or something supportive for after the procedure to support his balls
  • shower or bathe on the day of the surgery, washing his genital area and
    trimming pubic hair
  • arrange a ride home after surgery to make sure he’s not putting any pressure on the area, which can be caused by driving or too much movement

What happens during a vasectomy?

There are 2 main types of a vasectomy:

  • a conventional vasectomy – when your partner’s balls are numbed with local anesthetic. The surgeon will then make 2 cuts on either side with a scalpel, cut each sperm tube before tying, sealing or blocking them with heat, and then stitching them up. The stitches will usually dissolve within a week and the procedure only takes 15 minutes
  • no-scalpel vasectomy – your partner’s balls will be numbed with local anesthetic and the surgeon will make a small puncture in the skin to reach the sperm tubes. The tubes will then be cut, tied and sealed in the same way as a conventional vasectomy, but there’s no need for stitches and there’s very little bleeding with this method

How much does a vasectomy cost?

The cost of a vasectomy depends on where you live.

In the US, it varies depending on where you get it done. You might get one for free with some health insurance plans or government programmes, but it can cost up to $1,000, including follow-up visits. Always check with your insurer to be sure what the actual cost will be to you. In some cases you might need general anesthetic, which means the cost will be higher.

In most parts of the UK, you can get a vasectomy for free on the NHS, although waiting lists can be long. Another option is to pay to have it done privately, which can cost around £550 for the whole procedure.

How common is a vasectomy?

While vasectomies used to be common, the numbers of people getting them have dropped, both in the UK and the US.

In the US in 2002, 5.7% of men aged 15 to 44 used a vasectomy as their contraception, making it the fourth most used contraceptive method after

condoms
,
oral contraceptives
and tubal ligation (female sterilization). But since then, fewer men across all ages in the US have opted for one – in 2015, men aged 35 to 44 had the highest rate of vasectomy, at just 1.3%.

And it’s a similar story in the UK – there were 19,510 vasectomies carried out in England in 2010, compared to only 11,113 in 2014 and 4,486 in 2020, according to data from NHS Digital.

Having said this, since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, the number of vasectomy enquiries is on the rise again.

Your vasectomy questions answered

We know that both you and your partner are bound to have lots of questions about this procedure – you might be worried that it’s painful, has a long recovery process, whether it’s going to affect your sex drive or if it’s reversible…

Doctor and Healthily expert, Dr Ann, is here to put your mind at rest, and reassure you about the operation.

Does a vasectomy affect sex drive?

“A vasectomy won’t affect your partner’s interest in having sex, or how much they enjoy it. They’ll still get erections and be able to cum (ejaculate), the only difference is the semen your partner produces won’t contain any sperm. Your partner’s body will still produce sperm, it’s just that it will be absorbed back into his body, without causing him any harm.”

How long after a vasectomy can you have sex?

“Avoid having sex for at least 7 days. Your partner might have a little bit of swelling, bruising and discomfort after the procedure, but these symptoms will ease off. If you have sex after a week, you’ll need to use another method of contraception for the first 8 to 12 weeks to avoid pregnancy. This is how long it can take for the remaining sperm in your partner’s tubes to clear, which varies from person to person.”

Can you get pregnant after a vasectomy?

“It’s very rare. The only way this can happen is if sperm manages to cross the separated ends of your partner’s tubes, which happens in 1 in 2,000 cases over a lifetime. To put this into context, the failure rate of a vasectomy is lower than any other form of birth control.

“Your doctor will work with you and your partner to check his semen samples for sperm after a vasectomy operation, which will help to see if the procedure has been successful, and if not, what the next steps are. It’s important not to have sex without protection until your doctor gives you the all clear, which is usually around 12 weeks after your procedure, if there’s no sperm found in your sample.”

Is a vasectomy painful and how long does it take to recover?

“It’s a pain-free procedure that’s usually carried out under

local anesthetic
, where your partner will be awake but won't feel anything. In rare cases, they might be put under
general anesthetic
, which means being completely asleep for the operation. After this, your partner's balls might be a little bruised, swollen or painful, but this will get better in a few days.

Complete rest for at least 24 hours after surgery is recommended, and your partner should avoid sports, heavy lifting or stressful work for a week or so. Find out more about

what it’s actually like to get a vasectomy
."

Are vasectomies reversible?

“They are, but it’s a difficult operation that might not work. A vasectomy is meant to be permanent, so your partner should only have one if you’re both sure about it. If you do change your mind, the sooner your partner has the reversal done after their vasectomy, the more chance there is of it going well. But pregnancy may still not be possible after this time, even if a reversal has been successful. If you live in the UK, it's worth knowing that your partner probably won’t get a vasectomy reversal funded by the NHS.”

Is a vasectomy right for you and your partner?

Before you go ahead with an operation like a vasectomy, you should take the time to discuss whether it’s the right option for you and your partner.

If you’d like your partner to have a vasectomy you might be nervous about bringing it up, which is understandable – it can be a tough conversation to have. Many women feel we do all the ‘hard stuff’ when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, and having a vasectomy is small by comparison. But men can feel like it’s taking away their sense of masculinity.

We’ve rounded up all the pros and cons below, which can help you bring up the topic and figure it out together:

The pros of having a vasectomy are:

  • it’s more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, so if you’re certain that you don’t want any (or any more) children, it could be a good option
  • it’s a simpler and safer alternative to tubal ligation (female sterilization), which is more invasive than a vasectomy. This can be especially helpful if you need to avoid pregnancy for health reasons
  • it can stop you and your partner passing on any genetic disorders to your children, if you or your partner are carriers
  • it won’t affect your partner’s hormone levels or cause side effects like weight gain and mood swings, like some forms of hormonal contraception can. It also means you don’t have to think about contraception anymore, which is so often a woman’s responsibility

The cons of having a vasectomy are:

  • the operation isn’t easily reversed and reversal isn’t funded on the NHS in the UK, so if you or your partner aren’t 100% sure if you want kids, or any more kids, they’re feeling anxious about the procedure, or uncomfortable about the idea of being
    infertile
    , it might not be a good option
  • there may be some problems after surgery, including a collection of blood inside the scrotum (haematoma), hard lumps called sperm granulomas (caused by sperm leaking from the tubes), an infection, or long-term testicle pain, but all of these are rare, only occurring in between 1 and 14% of men who have vasectomies
  • your partner’s sperm tubes may reconnect, which could lead to a possible pregnancy, but this is very rare (it happens to 1 in 1000 couples).
    It doesn't protect against
    sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
    either, so you and your partner may need to use condoms while having sex

When to see a doctor before a vasectomy

If you’ve spoken to your partner and you’re both in agreement about a vasectomy, the next step is to talk to a doctor. They can give you both more information about what the procedure involves, what your other

contraception options
are, as well as ask your partner’s age, how many children they have (if any) and why you both want it done.

Your doctor may also recommend

counseling
before agreeing to refer your partner. After all, as it’s permanent, having a vasectomy is a big decision, and they’ll want to make sure you and your partner have worked through any emotional issues that might crop up, such as your partner finding it hard to accept they are infertile.

Self-care tips for after a vasectomy

After the procedure, your partner is likely to feel a little sore and bruised for a few days once the anesthetic wears off – this is very normal and nothing to worry about.

Below are a few self-care tips you can follow to help him get back to feeling his best:

  • offer simple painkillers, such as
    paracetamol
    or ibuprofen
  • prepare an ice pack (held in a clean towel) and put it against the sore area, if it helps with the swelling
  • encourage complete rest for at least 24 hours after the operation. Your partner can begin some light activity after 2 to 3 days, but you shouldn’t have sex for 7 days, and sports and heavy lifting should be avoided for 4 weeks
  • make sure there are no baths or showers for 48 hours, and keep the wound dry by getting your partner to wear tight-fitting, supportive underwear during the day and at night

48 hours after a vasectomy your partner should:

  • have a short bath or shower to clean the wound
  • avoid toiletries such as bath oils or talcum powder, which can irritate the area
  • dry the area well and put on a clean dressing

Your partner should get urgent medical if help they have:

  • persistent bleeding
  • a lot of pain
  • pain that’s getting worse
  • redness, swelling or oozing at the wound
  • swelling or tenderness of a testicle
  • a growing lump in one of their balls

If you’re worried your partner might have sepsis, call for an ambulance. This is very rare but it needs emergency treatment.

The signs of

sepsis
can include:

  • feeling confused, drowsy or having difficulty speaking
  • a very high or very low temperature
  • having a fast heart rate

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.