You and your partner are absolutely sure that you do not want to have any more children. Sterilization is an available option, offering an almost completely safe and reliable form of permanent birth control. Because it is safer and less complicated, most physicians recommend male rather than female sterilization to couples.
Family size is the most difficult decision most couples ever have to make. There are so many aspects to consider: the joy children bring to the household, the cost of supporting them, your or your spouse’s career plans, the medical risks of pregnancy and temporary birth control methods, and, of course, what your faith tells you.Temporary birth control methods—condoms, the diaphragm, the pill, etc.—let couples time their births and postpone taking more permanent measures. But, used long enough, every one of them might just fail. For that reason, many couples eventually choose a more-permanent approach—voluntary sterilization.
Only you, yours and your maker can decide about sterilization. But I can tell you most couples take time—between two and five years—to become sure enough to go ahead.
That’s good. Though both common forms of sterilization can be surgically reversed, reversal is more complicated and expensive than sterilization, insurance companies usually won’t pay for it and there’s no guarantee of success. That’s why I like to call sterilization “permanent.”
Once you’re confident that you’re ready to put your reproductive years behind you, there are two options: vasectomy (male sterilization) or tubal ligation (female sterilization). Vasectomy makes you sterile by cutting the pipelines (the vas deferens) between the testicles and the penis. These small tubes are located just under the surface of the scrotal skin, and it takes less than 15 minutes in the doctor’s office to snip them and seal the ends under a local anesthetic.
Tubal ligation involves cutting and tying a woman’s fallopian tubes, which are well below muscles and other tissue in the abdomen. It requires a general anesthetic and a hospital visit.
A couple of statistics might make the differences even more clear:
- Fatalities per 100,000: tubal ligation = 3.51; vasectomy = 0
- Approximate cost: tubal ligation = $2,500; vasectomy = $750 – 850
When a man has a vasectomy Friday afternoon and follows instructions—uses ice packs, elevates his feet and is inactive for the weekend (no matter how good he feels)—he’s back to work on Monday barely feeling a thing.
It’s worth discussing with your doctor what approach he uses and how many vasectomies he’s done. Technique and experience can make a significant difference both in how quickly you’re back on your feet and also in the likelihood of failure.
Is sex different after vasectomy? Not at all. Because the testicles supply less than 5 percent of the ejaculate, there’s no noticeable difference in the semen. Erections and sex drive are unaffected—though freedom from worry of pregnancy often enhances a couple’s sex life.
What about long-term health effects? No repeated studies have ever documented a hazard to men who have had vasectomies. And recently, researchers at Harvard University reported in the New England Journal of Medicine results from the largest study ever of vasectomized men. They were unable to associate vasectomy with any health problem in 14,607 vasectomized men.
Don’t choose vasectomy lightly. But if you and your spouse decide you’re ready for permanent birth control, get the facts and consider it carefully.