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October 28, 2021

How old do you have to be to get a vasectomy?

A vasectomy is a medical sterilization procedure typically chosen by people who do not want to have a future pregnancy. According to research in the American Journal of Men’s Health, the typical vasectomy patient is a male over age 35 who has two or more children. But what about younger people? Can men without kids get a vasectomy? Find out what a vasectomy process entails, how old you have to be to get one, and considerations before you get the “snip.”

Key takeaways:

  • A vasectomy is a simple surgical procedure that results in a highly effective, permanent form of birth control.
  • Vasectomy reversal is an invasive and expensive surgery with variable success rates.
  • The legal minimum age for a vasectomy is 18. Because reversal is not easy or guaranteed, some doctors may refuse to perform the surgery even on a legal adult if they feel the patient is an inappropriate candidate.
  • Freezing and storing sperm is highly recommended for anyone considering a vasectomy, to preserve their fertility options, should they change their mind in the future.

What is a vasectomy?

A vasectomy is a surgical procedure that cuts the supply of sperm to the semen, as a method of permanent birth control. After a vasectomy, the testicles will continue to produce sperm, but those sperm will no longer have a way out of the body, preventing pregnancy without affecting sexual health or function.

A vasectomy is a 30-minute outpatient procedure. First, the doctor will inject a local anesthetic into the scrotum with a small needle. If they are using a scalpel, the physician will make a small incision in the upper part of the scrotum; if they are opting for the “no-scalpel” method, they will make a small puncture in the scrotum instead of an incision. They will then insert an instrument to cut the vas deferens, the tube that connects the testes, where sperm are produced, to the ejaculatory duct, where they combine with semen. Finally, they’ll tie off or cauterize the ends of the vas and sew up the incisions with a few stitches.

The Mayo Clinic reports that vasectomies are “nearly 100 percent effective” in preventing pregnancy. The procedure is less expensive and invasive than female sterilization, known as tubal ligation.

Is a vasectomy reversible?

Some vasectomies can be reversed through a separate procedure, called a vasectomy reversal or vasovasostomy. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 6–10% of vasectomy patients change their minds and seek or undergo a reversal.

However, vasectomy reversals are invasive, rarely covered by insurance, and should not be considered a “guarantee” to previous fertility. Research shows that success rates of vasectomy reversal range widely depending on how long ago the vasectomy was done, the type of vasectomy reversal performed, and even the experience of the surgeon.

In one study of 1,469 vasectomy reversals, the chance of sperm returning to the semen (called “patency”) and pregnancy rates were highly impacted by the interval between the vasectomy and its reversal. The longer a vasectomy has been healed, the less likely a patient is to conceive after reversal:

Interval between vasectomy and vasectomy reversal Patency rate after vasectomy reversal Pregnancy rate after vasectomy reversal
Less than 3 years 97% 76%
3–8 years 88% 53%
9–14 years 79% 44%
15 or more years 71% 30%

Other factors that may contribute to an unsuccessful pregnancy after vasectomy reversal are maternal age and the presence of underlying fertility issues in either partner.

The legal minimum age for vasectomy is 18, but it’s up to the doctor’s judgment

Those who are certain they don’t want children may ask, “Am I too young to get a vasectomy?” If you are wondering if you’re a good candidate for vasectomy, it’s important to talk to your doctor.

Though the legal minimum age for vasectomy surgery in the US is 18, a doctor can decline to perform the surgery if they feel the patient is not an appropriate candidate — perhaps because they are more likely to change their mind. For example, research demonstrates that people who choose to get vasectomies before the age of 30 are much more likely — 12.5 times more likely — to seek a reversal than people who got a vasectomy at an older age. Younger vasectomy patients are also more likely to seek a reversal after a longer period of time, resulting in lower chances of success.

A patient may also be discouraged from seeking a vasectomy if they don’t have any current children. However, research actually demonstrates that men with more children at the time of their vasectomy are more likely to seek a vasectomy reversal.

If you’re too young to get a vasectomy but you’re certain you don’t want kids, the best option is long-acting reliable female birth control for your partner, such as an IUD. Learn about present and future male birth control options.

Freeze your sperm before a vasectomy

Even if you already have kids, it is highly recommended to freeze your sperm if you are considering having a vasectomy. Sperm cryogenic storage is more cost-effective than vasectomy reversal, less invasive, and may have a higher success rate. Learn more about the success rates of frozen sperm.

In addition, sperm quality declines with age. Research shows that men over the age of 35–40 typically experience a decrease in sperm health, which may affect pregnancy rates, time to conception, risk of miscarriage and other adverse pregnancy outcomes, and offspring health risks. Men will generally see a 52% decrease in fertility rate between their early 30s and their mid-to-late 30s. Freezing your sperm also preserves the current quality of your sperm, which could be crucial if you decide to have a child at a later age.

Sperm freezing is a fairly simple process: a semen sample, produced via masturbation, will be analyzed, washed, and frozen with liquid nitrogen to a temperature of less than -196º Celsius.  Legacy makes it even easier with at-home sperm freezing kits.

Success rates of frozen sperm

Survival rates for frozen sperm after thaw are around 85%. This small decrease does not greatly affect clinical outcomes. Research shows pregnancy rates using frozen-thawed sperm in artificial insemination are just slightly lower than using “fresh” semen samples (16% vs. 21% per cycle).

When using in vitro fertilization, there’s no difference between fresh and frozen success rates. Research shows that chances of pregnancy with IVF are equivalent in cycles using frozen-thawed sperm compared to cycles with fresh sperm, Another study demonstrated that pregnancy rates are also equivalent when using frozen-thawed sperm in IVF with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), compared to fresh.

Even long-term storage is unlikely to have an impact on outcomes. One study found nearly equivalent live birth rates for women undergoing artificial insemination with donor sperm frozen for up to 15 years.

Compared to the likelihood of pregnancy in couples who are seeking a reversal 15 years post-vasectomy, sperm freezing offers an improved chance of pregnancy, allowing you to safeguard your fertility options should you change your mind about your family plans in the future.

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