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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

A vasectomy is a minor surgical procedure that is done to make a man sterile (unable to father children). The procedure is usually done by a urologist, a specialist who deals with the male reproductive system. A vasectomy cuts or blocks the vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm away from the testicle to be added to semen. There are two vas deferens, one for each testicle on each side. Once the vas deferens are cut or blocked, sperm cannot pass from the place where there are manufactured, the testicle, to the reservoir where semen and prostatic secretions (secretions from the prostate gland) are stored. It is the combination of sperm and the secretions from the prostate that allow sperm to survive. During ejaculation, this sperm containing fluid is ejected through the ejaculatory duct and through the penis during orgasm. After a vasectomy, a man can continue to have normal erections, normal sexual intercourse and normal ejaculations of semen, but this ejaculate is sperm-free and cannot impregnate a female sexual partner.

About 500,000 vasectomies are done each year in the United States. This procedure usually takes only 15 to 20 minutes, and almost all vasectomies are done in the urologist's office or outpatient operating room.

A vasectomy is intended to produce permanent sterilization. Special microsurgery can reverse a vasectomy and restore fertility in some cases, but there are no guarantees that fertility or vasectomy reversal will be successful. This delicate procedure is expensive and is successful in only about 60-70% of cases. If you have even the slightest doubt about ending your chances for future fatherhood, then you should consider using another form of birth control which is more readily reversible. Although a husband does not need his wife's consent to have this surgery, it is appropriate for him to discuss his vasectomy with her beforehand.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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