Vasectomy is a surgical operation that cuts the tubes that carry the sperm from the testes (the vas deferens or the “vas”). The goal of a vasectomy is to make a man sterile, that is, unable to father children naturally. It is a very effective, safe and permanent form of contraception.
Where are sperm made?
Sperm are made in the testes in many loops of small, tightly packed tubes called seminiferous tubules.
How do sperm move from
The epididymis is a highly coiled tube (duct) that lies at the back of each testis and connects the seminiferous tubules to the vas deferens, a muscular tube about 30 cm long. When released from the testis, the sperm spend two to 10 days passing through the epididymis where they gain the vital ability to swim strongly (become ‘motile’), and to attach to and penetrate (get into) the egg.
At orgasm (sexual climax) waves of muscle contractions transport the sperm, with a small amount of fluid, from the epididymis through to the vas deferens. The seminal vesicles and prostate contribute extra fluid to protect the sperm. This mixture of sperm and fluid (the semen) travels along the urethra to the tip of the penis where it is ejaculated.
Only about two percent of the semen comes from the testis and epididymis but contains all the sperm. Therefore, after the vas is cut the volume of ejaculated fluid does not notably decrease.
How common is vasectomy?
More than 25,000 men have a vasectomy in Australia each year. About one in four men over the age of 40 have had a vasectomy.
Who performs a vasectomy?
Vasectomies can be performed by specialists (e.g., urologists, general surgeons, some gynaecologists) or some general practitioners (GPs).
A referral (usually from a GP) is needed to see a specialist.
What happens with a vasectomy?
A vasectomy is performed in a hospital or in a doctor’s private rooms under either a general (where you are unconscious) or a local anaesthetic and takes about 15-30 minutes. There are different techniques; usually a small cut is made on each side of the scrotum and the vas deferens is cut and a small piece removed. The ends of the vas deferens are then sealed with a stitch or using diathermy (heat).
Where can I get more information?
For more information about vasectomy or vasectomy reversal, speak with your local doctor, urologist or sexual health and family planning clinic.
What should I expect after the operation?
After the operation, there is often a small amount of bruising and mild discomfort for a few days; usually over-the-counter pain-killers and supportive underwear are all that is needed. Ice packs may help but should not be put directly onto the skin.
Your surgeon will talk to you about how much time off you will need for your type of work.
Does vasectomy affect sex drive or ejaculation?
After a vasectomy, sperm are still made but are stopped in the epididymis where they are reabsorbed. A vasectomy does not interfere with a man’s ability to get an erection, have an orgasm or ejaculate. There is no evidence that vasectomy alters a man’s libido (sex drive) or blood testosterone (male sex hormone) level.
It is important to note that vasectomy does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
How quickly does vasectomy work?
It can take a few months after a vasectomy for the sperm to clear out of the ducts (regular ejaculations can help to wash out the sperm). A semen analysis is done 3 months after a vasectomy to check there are no live sperm in the semen. About four in five men will have no sperm present, but for others, more tests are done every 1-2 months until they are clear. You should use another method of contraception until your doctor says there are no live sperm in the semen.
Can vasectomy fail?
Even after an initial negative sperm count, in about one in 500 men, sperm may reappear months or even years later. It seems that in some men, new passages for sperm to ‘bypass’ the vasectomy site develop (‘recanalization’).
Issues to think about
Is vasectomy right for me?
Vasectomy may be right for you if:
- you and your partner are sure you have completed your family
- you want to take responsibility for family planning
- you want an effective, permanent method of contraception that does not need ongoing treatment.
Vasectomy may not be right for you if you are:
- relatively young and do not have any children
- not in a relationship, or you have recently separated or divorced
- having relationship or marriage problems.
What are the risks of vasectomy operations?
Vasectomy is safe but carries a small risk (less than one in 20) of infection or bleeding.
A small proportion of men have long-term pain or discomfort in the scrotum and some have pain with ejaculation; it can’t be predicted before the vasectomy which men will have ongoing pain. Some medicines can help with pain or, in very rare cases, other surgery is needed.
There is no evidence that vasectomy increases the risk of other health problems. A recent study suggested that there may be a link between vasectomy and a small increased risk of prostate cancer but several other studies have shown no link with prostate cancer and further research is needed.
Why is it important to think about sperm storage?
Even though only a small fraction of men who undergo vasectomy want another child, some men store sperm before a vasectomy “just in case”. This may prevent the need for a vasectomy reversal in the future; however, when using stored sperm, the female partner will still need some form of assisted reproductive technology (ART) to fall pregnant. There are also costs involved with sperm storage.
What is a vasectomy reversal?
About three percent of men who have had a vasectomy will think about having more children, for reasons such as a new relationship, either by having a vasectomy reversal or by using assisted reproductive technology (ART).
Vasectomy reversal involves re-joining the cut ends of the vas deferens usually by microsurgery (using an operating microscope). The operation is much more complex than the original vasectomy and is usually done under general anaesthetic by a specialist and can take several hours.
How successful is a vasectomy reversal?
In 60-90% of vasectomy reversals, sperm return to the ejaculate. The chance is lower if:
- there has been a long time between the vasectomy and the reversal; after 10-15 years, the chances fall significantly
- a large amount of vas deferens was removed originally, or it was cut near the epididymis
- other blockages have developed in the epididymis.
Even after technically successful surgery, pregnancy is not guaranteed. After vasectomy reversal, only about 40-70% of couples achieve a pregnancy over the next 2-3 years of regular sex. The chance of pregnancy is lower when the woman is older or has other fertility issues. Sperm problems may contribute if there is a lower sperm count, poorer sperm function if the epididymis has been damaged, or because of sperm antibodies which may develop.
What are sperm antibodies?
Sperm antibodies happen when the immune system reacts to the man’s own sperm as if it were foreign tissue. About four in five men develop sperm antibodies after vasectomy.
How is vasectomy reversal affected by sperm antibodies?
In most men sperm antibodies do not cause any problems and will not affect the chance of a pregnancy, so testing for sperm antibodies is not needed before a vasectomy reversal.
However, in a few men, sperm antibodies can interfere with the ability of sperm to swim, and to attach to and penetrate (get into) the egg. This can stop fertilisation happening, even if the vas deferens is successfully re-joined.
When is ART used after vasectomy?
Men who have had a vasectomy reversal but their partner has been unable to become pregnant can seek ART. Some couples decide not to have a vasectomy reversal and go straight to ART depending on the couple’s individual circumstances. Sometimes the choice is easy but often it needs in-depth discussion with a specialist to decide what is best. Factors that affect this choice include:
- the time since vasectomy and the type of original surgery
- the age and fertility of the female partner
- the couple’s desire to have only one or many children
- the availability and cost of surgical and ART services.
How is ART used after vasectomy?
Sperm can be collected from the epididymis or testis using a fine needle under local anaesthetic. These sperm can then be injected one by one into eggs collected from the female partner in an ART process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). The success of treatment depends mainly on the age and health of the female partner. For women in their 30s, pregnancy rates around 40% per cycle are typical.