Male sterilisation (vasectomy) is a permanent method of contraception that's carried out on a man.

During a minor operation, the tubes that carry sperm from a man's testicles to the penis are cut, blocked or sealed with heat. It's usually carried out under local anaesthetic, and takes about 15 minutes. There is no known side effects on a man's hormones or pleasure from having a vasectomy.


Female sterilisation involves an operation that permanently prevents a woman from being able to get pregnant. It's usually carried out under general anaesthetic, and involves blocking or sealing the fallopian tubes. This is more complicated than a vasectomy.

How does it work?

A vasectomy prevents sperm from reaching the seminal fluid (semen), which is still ejaculated from the penis during sex – sperm only makes up a percentage of what is ejaculated so it is unlikely to affect satisfaction of orgasm. As there is no sperm in the semen, a woman's egg can't be fertilised.

In a female sterilisation the fallopian tubes, which link the ovaries to the womb, are blocked. This prevents the woman's eggs from reaching the womb and being fertilised by any sperm that may be there. Eggs will still be released from the ovaries as normal, but they will be absorbed naturally into the woman's body.

How effective is it?

For a vasectomy the lifetime failure rate is about 1 in 2,000. This means that 1 out of 2,000 men who are sterilised will get a woman pregnant during the rest of his lifetime.

For female sterilisation there's an overall lifetime failure rate of about 1 in 200. This means that 1 out of every 200 women using sterilisation as contraception will get pregnant during the rest of her lifetime.

Added benefits?

  • Sterilisation is considered permanent. Once it's done, you don't have to think about contraception again.

Vasectomy - What else should I know?

  • Vasectomy is simpler, safer, cheaper and takes less time to recover than female sterilisation
  • You need to use contraception for about eight weeks after the operation because sperm stay in the tubes leading to the penis.
  • Two semen tests are done after the operation to ensure that all the sperm have gone.
  • Your scrotum may become bruised, swollen or painful. Some men have ongoing pain in their testicles.
  • As with any surgery, there's a slight risk of infection.
  • Reversing the operation isn't easy, and is not usually available on the NHS.

Female Sterilisation - What else should I know?

  • If there is an option for male sterilisation this is best as it is less comlicated and has less risk.
  • You need to use contraception until the operation is done, and for four weeks afterwards.
  • As with any surgery, there's a small risk of complications. These include internal bleeding, infection or damage to other organs.
  • There's a small risk that the operation won't work. Blocked tubes can rejoin immediately or years later.
  • If the operation fails, this may increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilised egg implants outside the womb, usually in a fallopian tube).
  • The operation is difficult to reverse.

Sterilisation doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so use a condom to protect yourself and your partner against STIs.