The Lowdown On Vasectomies

When most people think of more permanent birth control methods, the first concepts that come to mind are tubal ligation and vasectomies. Tubal ligation surgery is performed in women and essentially blocks the fallopian tubes so that any eggs released during ovulation are unable to travel through the tubes and into the uterus where fertilization could occur. In men, a vasectomy is a surgery where doctors seal off reproductive tubes known as the vas deferens to prevent sperm from leaving the testicles and reaching the semen. Afterward, a man may still ejaculate, but the semen won’t contain any sperm. But can a woman get pregnant by a man who had a vasectomy?

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The accuracy of vasectomies

Vasectomies are considered some of the most effective birth control methods, with more than half a million men opting for the procedure every year in the US. Still, the procedure isn’t without drawbacks. The main risk is an unplanned pregnancy. According to one survey, researchers found that one pregnancy occurs for every 1,000 vasectomies performed. Statistically speaking, vasectomies have a 99.9% effective rate in preventing pregnancy.

So why is there a risk of pregnancy?

Specifically, the risk of conception can be caused by two main issues surrounding vasectomies. The obvious cause would be a surgery where the vas deferens weren’t properly sealed. If that scenario occurs, sperm may still leak out through the reproductive tube and find the semen.

An unexpected reason

However, a lesser-known cause for unplanned pregnancies after a vasectomy may surprise people. Even though a vasectomy blocks sperm from entering the vas deferens from the testicles, these tubes serve as storage space for sperm that were already produced. Research has shown that sometimes sperm are stored in the vas deferens for weeks or even months. So while newly formed sperm won’t enter the tubes from the testicles, any sperm that was in the ducts before the vasectomy can still enter the semen.

Can vasectomies be reversed?

Just like with tubal ligation, most vasectomies are reversible. The procedure reconnects the vas deferens to the testicles to allow sperm to flow into the semen. However, after the procedure, success rates can vary from 30-90% depending on the type of procedure a man has, as well as a partner’s age and any other potential underlying fertility issues.

Avoiding an unplanned pregnancy after a vasectomy

Experts have estimated that to fully clear the ducts of any remaining sperm, a man must ejaculate around 20 times. And during the weeks immediately after a vasectomy, a man will usually meet with doctors for sperm analysis to confirm that the procedure was successful and there are no more sperm present in the semen. For the best results, men or couples trying to avoid pregnancy should rely on a backup birth control method until a doctor has confirmed a zero sperm count in the semen. For more information about getting pregnant after a vasectomy, speak with a healthcare provider.

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