Male sterilisation (vasectomy)

What is a vasectomy?

A vasectomy, or male sterilisation, is a permanent procedure to prevent sperm from reaching an egg. It is performed on the male sex organs. It’s for people who don’t want children or don’t want any more.

The term male refers to biological sex but we recognise that people who don’t identify as men may also use this method of contraception.

How does a vasectomy work?

It stops sperm from reaching an egg. It involves cutting, sealing or tying the vas deferens – the tube which carries sperm from the testicles to the penis. It’s sometimes informally known as ‘getting the snip’.

Vasectomy effectiveness

Vasectomy is over 99% effective. Vasectomy fails at a rate of in 1 in 1000 people 1.

What is the vasectomy procedure like?

Before your vasectomy you’ll need to talk to a doctor who’ll give you more information and may refer you for counselling before making your referral.

There are two types of vasectomy, both of which you’ll most likely be given a local anaesthetic in your scrotum before the procedure.

Conventional vasectomy

Once your scrotum is numb, the doctor will make two cuts in either side of the scrotum using a scalpel. They’ll then cut each tube (and may remove a small section) before tying, sealing or blocking them. The cuts are stitched up and the stitches will dissolve within a week. The procedure takes approximately 15 minutes and can be done at a clinic, at a hospital outpatient department or at some GP surgeries.

No-scalpel vasectomy

Once your scrotum is numb, the doctor will punch a small hole in its skin to reach the tubes. They’ll cut them and tie and seal them in the same way as the conventional vasectomy. There’s no need for stitches with this method.

It will help to wear looser fitting underwear for a few days after your operation. You should be able to return to work within a day or two.

You’ll need to have your semen tested 12 weeks after the operation to make sure it’s sperm-free and the operation has worked. Continue using condoms until you know your vasectomy worked.

How long does male sterilisation provide protection for?

For most people, vasectomy is permanent. In rare cases, the tubes can reconnect, meaning sperm could reach the womb and fertilise an egg.

Potential side effects

Some people experience side effects after their vasectomy operation:

  • It’s normal to have a bit of swelling and discomfort after a vasectomy but these symptoms should ease off.
  • Some people experience bleeding after the operation.
  • It’s uncommon, but some people have ongoing pain in their testicles. Sometimes surgery can relieve this but doesn’t always work.
  • Other potential side effects include blood collecting in the scrotum (haematoma), hard lumps called sperm granulomas (caused by sperm leaking from the tubes) and the risk of getting an infection 2.

Things to consider before getting a vasectomy

  • Male sterilisation is intended to be permanent and is a very difficult procedure to reverse. It’s not suitable for people who may want children in their future.
  • Vasectomy doesn’t prevent you from getting sexually transmitted infections so you may want to use condoms.
  • If you are under 30 and haven’t had any children, your doctor might not agree to refer you for a vasectomy.

Can a vasectomy be reversed?

Vasectomies can be reversed but it’s a difficult procedure which might not be successful. The sooner you have the reversal done after your vasectomy, the more chance there is of it working. Vasectomy reversal is rarely funded by the NHS.

Can I get a vasectomy free on the NHS?

Yes, you can get a vasectomy at no cost on the NHS. There might be a long waiting list depending on where you live. You may choose to book a vasectomy privately, vasectomy cost can vary between providers.

Other contraception options

Condoms are the only other form of contraception that people with a penis can use to prevent pregnancy.

If you would like to have a conversation with your partner about other forms of contraception you could explore our contraception information pages together where there are long-acting reversible contraception options like the IUD or contraceptive pills.

Reviewed by our clinical team: December 2020 (next review date: April 2022)

1. Source: Sexwise Sterilisation (vasectomy and tubal occlusion) - Contraception - Sexwise
2. Source: NHS Vasectomy (male sterilisation) - NHS (