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How Does a Vasectomy Work: Your No-Frills Guide to Getting Snipped

vasectomy guide
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All of us have gone to great measures to protect the family jewels. If we were athletes growing up, especially playing those contact sports like baseball and football, we likely wore a jockstrap and cup for protection. Even for those less athletic, it’s still a natural reaction to always cover the crotch to prevent unexpected contact. As a result, just the idea of having a scalpel coming anywhere near our jewel can have us cringing in fear. Vasectomies, for some, can be like that other “V” word (i.e Voldemort) in the Harry Potter series, that name that shall not be mentioned.

While we each have our own personal feelings and opinions about getting snipped, we felt it pertinent to reach out to an expert to dispel the myths around vasectomies while providing factual information for those who have reached a stage in life where it may make sense.

Dr. R. Charles Welliver Jr., MD is the Director of Men’s Health and Assistant Professor of Surgery, Division of Urology at Albany Medical College in Albany, New York. “Vasectomies are among the most effective form of permanent birth control and are generally less invasive than other methods of permanent sterilization,” explains Dr. Welliver.

Aside from condom usage, the burden of preventing unwanted pregnancies has typically fallen on women in the form of hormonal methods (pills, vaginal rings, patch, injections, and implants), intrauterine devices, and barrier methods (diaphragm). All of these have side effects, some being potentially dangerous. The most permanent form of birth control for women is similar to the vasectomy, in which the woman’s “tubes are tied” (tubal ligation). In contrast to a vasectomy, though, tubal ligation is a more invasive procedure, costs significantly more, and has a longer recovery period.

How Does a Vasectomy Work?

Many of us may consider ourselves masters in the bedroom, but how many really understand the anatomy of sperm production and ejaculation? Here’s a quick summary of where sperm is produced and how its transport is prevented after the procedure.

Sperm cells are produced in the testes (balls). They are stored in the epididymis (a tube) until they mature and are either called into action or reabsorbed into the body. From the epididymis, the sperm cells make their way down to another tube called the vas deferens. During an orgasm, sperm cells combine with seminal fluid secreted by the prostate and other sex glands before being ejaculated through the urethra.

vasectomy guide cut
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During a vasectomy, a small incision (or two) is made in the scrotum (sack) and the vas deferens are retrieved through these incisions. This tube is cut and each end is either clipped shut or tied off.

Once the procedure is complete, some sperm cells can still reside in the vas deferens. Most experts agree that it can take 20 ejaculations (or roughly three months) to clear any residual sperm cells from the tubes, and sterility can only be validated by a semen analysis.

Vasectomy Myths: True or False?

We asked Dr. Welliver to help us dispel some of the most common myths and misconceptions around vasectomies. We think that you’ll agree that it’s a lot less intimidating once you’ve read the answers below (especially No. 1).

1. Vasectomies lower sexual drive.

Definitely false. There is some data that demonstrates that after their vasectomy guys have more sex on a monthly basis (about one more time per month). The study couldn’t identify the reason for this, but I suspect it has something to do with less concern for pregnancy.

2. Having a vasectomy can increase your risks for diseases like prostate cancer.

Likely false. A variety of studies have tried to connect these disease however no one has described any obvious causative mechanism in the body that would cause this. Having a vasectomy and getting prostate cancer are both relatively common so in some cases statistics can make it appear there is a correlation but no one has described how the human body would cause this to happen, i.e. there is no smoking gun.

3. A vasectomy is an invasive procedure and the recovery time is extensive.

False. In rare cases, recovery can be extensive, but this occurs to less than 5% of men and is usually related to a fairly minor complication like a hematoma (a collection of blood in the scrotum). Overall, most patients recover quickly with minimal pain or compromise to any of your usual activities. You may not be ready to run a marathon the next day, but most guys are back to their workout routine a week later.

4. Vasectomies are easily reversed.

This, at least, is partially true. The vasectomy reversal is a two- to four-hour procedure and generally requires the operating room. Most insurance companies will not cover a reversal so the patient would have to pay cash for the procedure, which is usually in the thousands of dollars. The vasectomy reversal itself is not dangerous, however it will be expensive to get to the point where you could have it reversed.

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Clay Abney
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