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Understanding Vasectomy

Vasectomy is a simple, outpatient (same day), safe procedure that makes a man sterile (unable to father a child). It is the most effective birth control method for men.  It can be done in a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital.


Before your vasectomy will be performed, you’ll be asked to read and sign a consent form. This form states you’re aware of the possible risks and complications and understand that the procedure, though usually successful, is not guaranteed to make you sterile. Be sure that you have all your questions answered before signing this form. After the procedure, if you have any of the following or other symptoms you’re concerned about, call your doctor.

Your Reproductive System

For pregnancy to occur, a man’s sperm (male reproductive cells) must join with a woman’s egg. To understand how a vasectomy works, you need to know how sperm are produced, stored, and released by the body.

  • The urethra is the tube in the center of the penis. It transports both urine and semen. When you have an orgasm, semen is ejaculated out of the urethra.

  • The seminal vesicles and the prostate gland secrete fluids called semen. This sticky, white fluid helps nourish sperm and carry them along.

  • The epididymis is a coiled tube that holds the sperm while they mature.

  • The scrotum is a pouch of skin that contains the testes.

  • The testes are glands that produce sperm and male hormones.

  • The vas deferens are tubes that carry the sperm from the epididymis to the penis.

  • Sperm (shown magnified) carry genetic material.

Cutaway view of male reproductive systemCutaway view of male reproductive system

How a Vasectomy Works

During the procedure, the two vas deferens are cut and sealed off. This prevents sperm from traveling from the testes to the penis. It is the only change in your reproductive system. The testes still produce sperm. But since the sperm have nowhere to go, they die and are absorbed by your body. Only a very small amount of semen is made up of sperm. So after a vasectomy, your semen won’t look or feel any different.

Possible Risks and Complications of Vasectomy

Vasectomy is a safe procedure, but it does have risks, including bleeding and infection. You may also have any of the following after surgery:

  • Sperm granuloma is a small, harmless lump that may form where the vas deferens is sealed off.

  • Sperm buildup (congestion) may cause soreness in the testes. Anti-inflammatory medications can provide relief.

  • Epididymitis is inflammation that may cause scrotal aching. This often goes away without treatment. Anti-inflammatory medications can provide relief.

  • Reconnection of the vas deferens can occur in rare cases. This makes you fertile again and can result in an unwanted pregnancy.

  • Sperm antibodies are a common response of the body to absorbed sperm. The antibodies can make you sterile, even if you later try to reverse your vasectomy.

  • Long-term testicular discomfort may occur after surgery, but is very rare.

Keep In Mind:

After a vasectomy, some active sperm still remain in the reproductive system. It will take about 3 months and numerous ejaculations before the semen is completely free of sperm. Until then, you’ll need to use another form of birth control.


© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.