5 things to know before having a vasectomy

Men's Health
Male patient speaking with a female doctor.

From condoms to the contraceptive pill and IUDs, there are plenty of options when it comes to birth control. However, many of them are temporary and require some diligence from you or your partner. If you're looking for a more permanent option for birth control, a vasectomy might be a good option.

A vasectomy is a surgical procedure that's used as birth control for men. It involves cutting or blocking the vas deferens—or the tubes that bring sperm from the testicles. This keeps sperm from getting into the semen, preventing pregnancy.

If you're considering a vasectomy, here are 5 things you should know beforehand.

1. Vasectomies are very effective — but not immediately.

Compared to condoms and birth control pills, vasectomies tend to be more effective. However, it takes time for them to reach their full effectiveness—often at least 3 months after the procedure.

"Before you can rely on a vasectomy to prevent pregnancy, you need to wait until the remaining sperm are cleared out of the semen," says Cara O'Brien, MD, a urologic specialist at Main Line Health. "This can take 15 to 30 ejaculations. For many men, this is about 3 months, but 1 in every 5 men will need to wait a bit longer."

Fortunately, you don't have to guess when this will be. After your vasectomy, your healthcare provider will check your sperm count using a semen analysis. Until your sperm count is down to zero, be sure to use other birth control methods to prevent pregnancy.

2. Vasectomies won't negatively impact your sex life.

A common concern about vasectomies is how they might impact your sex life.

"Fortunately, because they don't change your levels of the male hormone called testosterone, you don't need to worry about a negative impact on your sexual wellness. Vasectomies don't lead to a decreased sex drive, inability to get aroused or inability to ejaculate," says Dr. O'Brien.

You will notice, however, that the amount of semen you ejaculate may be a little less after a vasectomy. This is because there's no sperm in it, which makes up a small portion of that volume.

3. Vasectomies don't require a lot of downtime.

After a vasectomy, you can expect a fairly quick recovery. You might experience some swelling, bruising or pain, which should ease up in a couple of weeks. To help recovery, you can:

  • Wear tight-fitting underwear.
  • Apply an ice pack to the area.
  • Rest and avoid strenuous activities, including sexual activity.
  • Use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Avoid aspirin for a week following your procedure.)

Plan to be able to go back to work after a few days if you have a desk job. If your job requires more physical activity, talk to your provider about when you can return to work.

4. If you're in a committed relationship, make sure you and your partner are both on board with a vasectomy.

While a vasectomy is a procedure on your body, if you have a partner, it affects them, too. Don't get a vasectomy unless you're both completely certain you don't want to have kids eventually.

Talk to your partner about your future. If you have kids, are you sure you don't want more? If you don't have kids, is there any future in which you imagine having them?

If you're still unsure about having children, or you're looking for temporary birth control, talk to your healthcare provider about other options to prevent pregnancy.

5. Vasectomies are reversible — but it's not as simple as you might think.

Vasectomies shouldn't be done without complete certainty that you don't want children in the future. While most vasectomies can be undone (or "reversed"), the procedure is more complicated than the original vasectomy. It can also be expensive since many health plans don't cover vasectomy reversals. What's more, there's no guarantee a reversal will lead to pregnancy.

If you do decide you want children after a vasectomy, there are other approaches, such as sperm extraction alongside in vitro fertilization (IVF).

A permanent birth control option for men

Birth control can require effort, whether it's taking a daily pill or making sure you have condoms readily available. If you're sure about not wanting to have children in the future, a vasectomy can simplify the process. It's a straightforward, one-time procedure as well as an effective approach to permanently preventing pregnancy.

Next steps:

Learn more about urologic specialist Cara O'Brien, MD
Learn more about urology care at Main Line Health
Which birth control method is best for you?