Often striking fear into the hearts (and genitals) of men, a vasectomy is considered safer and more effective than other long-term contraception options. This procedure is a permanent contraception measure which allows couples to engage in sexual activities without the risk of pregnancy.
While it may be possible to reverse the procedure, patients should consider a vasectomy permanent. Reversing the procedure is expensive and often unsuccessful. Before undertaking a vasectomy, you must be sure that you do not wish to father any children in the future.
Like many things of a personal nature, myths and unknowns surround vasectomies. Will the procedure hurt? How long does a vasectomy take? And is it true that it affects your sex drive? This article will help answer all the questions you’ve been too afraid to ask.
What Is a Vasectomy?
A permanent form of male birth control, vasectomy cuts off the supply of sperm to semen. With no sperm to fertilize a woman’s egg, having a vasectomy is one of the safest ways to avoid pregnancy.
Considered a low-risk procedure, a vasectomy can often be performed as an outpatient surgery under a local anesthetic. While some general practice and family medicine doctors perform vasectomies, the majority are carried out by urologists who specialize in the male reproductive system.
How Does It Work?
The first thing a doctor will do is consult with the patient about the risks and permanency of a vasectomy. To perform the procedure, they will normally complete the following:
- Inject a local anesthetic into the skin of the scrotum to numb the area
- Make a small incision or puncture in the scrotum
- Locate the vas deferens, the tube that carries semen from the testicles
- Pull the vas deferens through the incision and cut it, before tying, cauterizing, or clipping it and returning it to the scrotum
- Seal the incision or puncture with stitches or glue, or allow it to close naturally.
How Long Does a Vasectomy Take?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a typical vasectomy will take between 10 and 30 minutes to complete. As it’s often performed under a local and not general anesthetic, the post-operative recovery time is reduced, minimizing complications and side-effects.
Are There Risks?
Like any medical procedure, complications can occur as a result of a vasectomy. Inflammation, bleeding, and infection are possible. Other minor risks include:
- Sperm granuloma: A pea-sized lump can form near the incision of the vas deferens, caused by leaking sperm. Rarely dangerous, it is normally reabsorbed by the body over time.
- Congestion: Mild pressure may be felt in the scrotum post surgery, but it usually subsides two to 12 weeks after the procedure.
No contraception guarantees effectiveness, so there is still a risk of pregnancy after a vasectomy. However, only one in every 2000-3000 cases results in pregnancy, making vasectomy one of the most effective forms of birth control.
What About Recovery?
Swelling, pain, and bruising are common after a vasectomy. However, they will generally subside within a few days. Everyday activities can normally be resumed the day after surgery, while full recovery typically takes eight or nine days.
To help ease the pain while recovering from a vasectomy, follow the below tips:
- Wear tight underwear: To avoid accidental injury, it is best to wear underwear that supports your genitals while healing.
- Take pain medication: An over-the-counter painkiller such as acetaminophen (paracetamol) is safe for most people and will ease discomfort after surgery. Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin as these can prevent the blood from clotting and delay healing.
- Use an ice pack: Swelling is common after a vasectomy. Use an ice pack for the first two days of recovery to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Limit activity: While recovery is typically swift for vasectomy patients, it is best to avoid strenuous activities like heavy lifting and sports for at least a week.
- Avoid sexual activity for a week: Some pain and blood in the semen may be experienced when ejaculating shortly after a vasectomy. Avoid sexual intercourse for a week to allow for recovery.
While sexual activity can be resumed shortly after the surgery, the Cleveland Clinic advises precautions should be taken against pregnancy for up to three months. After a vasectomy, you will still ejaculate semen, but the reproductive sperm will eventually be blocked after about 15 to 20 ejaculations.
To reduce the risk of pregnancy, your doctor will perform a sperm count and advise when the semen is sperm-free. This is typically done six to ten weeks after the procedure and may be repeated if the count is high.
While a vasectomy is an effective way of preventing pregnancy, it will not protect you against sexually transmitted infections such as HPV or chlamydia. If you participate in high-risk sexual activities or have multiple sex partners, you should continue to use precautions like condoms to prevent infection.
Busting the Myths
Many men are ignorant of the precise nature of vasectomies, so it’s no surprise that there are many myths surrounding the procedure. To ease your mind, we’ll look into some of the most common misconceptions about vasectomies.
Lowered Sex Drive
Sexual and reproductive functions are two different things and shouldn’t be confused. Surgery on your genitals does not equal a lowered sex drive.
Vasectomies are done under a local anesthetic which numbs the entire area. Mild discomfort may be felt for a day or two following the procedure but can be eased with ice and painkillers.
Vasectomy Blocks Sperm Production
Sperm continues to be produced after vasectomy, but as the route to the urethra has been severed, it has no way to fertilize a woman’s egg. Sperm cells typically survive for three to five days before being reabsorbed into the body.
It’s Easier to Tie a Woman’s Tubes
Vasectomies are cheaper, faster, and more effective than female sterilization methods such as tubal ligation and occlusion. Women are also more likely than men to experience complications as a result of the more invasive procedure and longer recovery time.
Is a Vasectomy Right for You?
Many couples look to permanent contraception to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies. Ultimately, the decision to have a vasectomy comes down to your lifestyle and personal choices.
So how long does a vasectomy take? While most men see the doctor in the morning and are back home in time for lunch, the procedure itself normally takes less than 30 minutes. With low rates of complications, full recovery typically occurs in less than ten days.
If you have any desire to have kids in the future, freezing your sperm before the procedure is an option. But before deciding if a vasectomy is right for you, speak with your partner and doctor about your personal circumstances.