Vasectomy 101

Thinking about a vasectomy? Here's what you should know

What it is: An out-patient procedure performed under local anaesthetic.
How it works: A man’s sperm ducts are blocked so sperm can’t enter the ejaculate.
Effectiveness: Average failure rate is three in 1,000.
Convenience: You need a backup method of birth control until after a sperm test at the three-month mark gives you the green light.
Best for: Men who have all the children they want.
Side effects: The no-scalpel procedure reduces the risk of complications by 80%, although there may be some swelling.   
Price tag: A referral to a urologist.
Good to know: Reversal is possible, but there’s no guarantee — you should consider vasectomy permanent.

Vasectomy: take two

“It’s kind of a funny story,” says Ryan Blackwell,* a two-time vasectomy survivor. Funny because his wife, Emily, didn’t get pregnant. But three years after his first vasectomy, she suddenly got the feeling she might be. “She said, ‘You need to get tested again. I don’t know why, but you do,’” says Blackwell. His family doctor told him he had nothing to worry about — but, just in case, sent his sperm sample to a urologist. It turned out his first vasectomy had failed. Within days, he was booking his second.
“Vasectomy has the lowest failure rate of any form of contraception,” says Ronald Weiss, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. Most failures occur in the first 12 weeks, when any lingering sperm may still be alive. “It can fail afterward, but it’s very rare,” he says. “The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself and, in some cases, the tubes will ‘rejoin.’” If you’re worried, a simple sperm test should ease your mind. “I now have a standing arrange-ment with my family doctor to have the test done on an annual basis,” says Blackwell. “Just in case.”
*Name changed by request.

Our experts:
Dara Maker, family physician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto
Roey Malleson, clinical associate professor of family practice at University of British Columbia
Ronald Weiss, assistant professor of medicine at University of Ottawa

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