What is a vasectomy and are there any risks involved?

A vasectomy is considered one of the most effective methods of birth control, and the operation is given to around 10,000 Australian men each year.

This blog was originally published on 25th August 2016

What is a vasectomy?

A vasectomy is a small operation that prevents the release of sperm during male ejaculation. The procedure involves clamping, severing or sealing the vas deferens from each testicle. This prevents sperm, the male reproductive cells, from mixing with the semen that is ejaculated from the penis.

This means that, even if your ejaculate comes into contact with an egg, it cannot be fertilised. This procedure does not prevent sperm from being produced; sperm will still be produced by the body, but it will simply be reabsorbed. This is a normal occurrence and happens to sperm that remains dormant and is not ejaculated, even in men without a vasectomy.

Due to the fact that the vas deferens tubes are blocked before the seminal vesicles, you will still produce the same amount of fluid when you ejaculate.


No-scalpel vasectomy

While regular vasectomies are low-risk, no-scalpel vasectomies are said to be 10 times less risky than regular vasectomies. No-scalpel vasectomies differ from regular vasectomies in that they are less invasive and do not require the use of a scalpel.

Instead, the no-scalpel vasectomy allows the entire vasectomy to be conducted via a single puncture and the vas deferens are fixed below the scrotal skin with a specialised instrument. The incision in the scrotum is so small that does not require suturing or stitches. Via this incision, the vas deferens can be grasped and manipulated by the surgeon and this results in fewer postoperative complications and reduces recovery time.

Is vasectomy effective?

It is not guaranteed that all vasectomies are 100% effective. Even when conducted by a reliable and practiced professional, it is possible for sperm to escape via a void between the blocked vas deferens. This anomaly, referred to as recanalisation, is extremely unusual and usually occurs in the first two to three weeks after your vasectomy, and, in rare cases, even years afterwards. This is why it is essential that you provide post-operative samples six to eight weeks after your procedure to verify that your semen is free of sperm.

While the long-term effects of the procedure are generally effective, the short-term effects are not. It will take several months after a vasectomy for all remaining sperm in your reproductive system to be reabsorbed into or ejaculated out of your body.

You should have your semen tested regularly following a vasectomy to monitor your sperm count; it will gradually reduce as the month’s progress. Until your sperm count is zero you will need to use another form of birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Typically, you will not be considered sterile until you have received two post-surgical semen tests with sperm counts of zero.

What are the risks of a vasectomy?

Like all contraceptive methods there are some risks involved with a vasectomy. For two to 12 weeks following a vasectomy you may experience congestion, a sense of pressure caused by sperm in the testes. While this may cause some discomfort, it will resolve itself over time. Although rare, the two other most likely complications of vasectomies are haematoma (or bleeding) and infections. A no-scalpel vasectomy reduces the likelihood of both of these complications due to the fact the incision in the scrotum is small and the associated blood vessels are less likely to be affected.

Another possible complication is sperm granuloma, the development of a hard, pea-sized lump that results from sperm leakage from the severed vas deferens. While the lump can be painful, it is not dangerous and is often gradually reabsorbed by the body.

How long is the recovery time?

After your procedure, your scrotum will likely remain numb for one to two hours. It is recommended that you apply cold packs to the area, preferably wrapped in thin cloth or a towel to avoid oversensitivity.

It is best to wear snug-fitting underwear or a jockstrap after the operation to reduce discomfort and protect the area. Remain on your back as much as possible for the rest of the day following the procedure and take it easy. It is normal to experience swelling and minor pain in the scrotum area for several days following surgery, but unless your work is physically demanding, you should be able to return in a matter of days. To avoid any post-op complications, avoid heavy lifting for at least a week.

Who should I speak to?

Getting a vasectomy is a big decision, as it can result in permanent sterility. Before undergoing a vasectomy, it is crucial that both you and your partner have agreed to the procedure. Relationship difficulties may arise if you undergo the procedure without the consent of your partner. If you are sure about the procedure, it is essential that you discuss the procedure with a health professional in person.

During this discussion, they will decide whether or not you are eligible for a no-scalpel vasectomy and will require you to sign a consent form. This form is to acknowledge that you understand the procedure and its possible risks.

If you are looking to undergo a vasectomy, Sydney expert Doctor Katelaris offers consults at three locations across Sydney.