Vasectomy is a safe, easy, and effective technique for family planning. But according to a United Nations report, only about 1 in 10 American men opt to undergo the procedure. That’s roughly half the proportion of their Canadian and British counterparts.
So why the hesitation?
Well, one of the biggest factors is good old-fashioned misinformation. Particularly when it comes to vasectomy reversal.
There are many myths about how vasectomy reversals cause lasting male infertility or other ill effects.
But do any of them hold water? To clear the air, let’s take a look at some of the most popular recurring myths and what, if any, truth there is to them.
Myth #1: A Vasectomy Is Irreversible
It’s best to tackle the biggest misconception of all right out of the gate. So to clarify once and for all, there is no truth to this claim.
Patients who change their minds all the time and decide that they want to have children, so vasectomy reversals are quite common. What’s more, is that they enjoy a high rate of success.
You see, a related misconception is that when a man undergoes a vasectomy, he stops producing sperm altogether. But this actually isn’t the case. He keeps producing them as normal, but with nowhere to go they end up being reabsorbed into the body via the epididymis.
A vasectomy reversal involves reconnecting the vas deferens tubes that were cut and sealed during the original procedure. And since they never stopped producing sperms cells this whole time, once the patient has healed from the operation, sperm will be able to resume their original route as normal. Though it bears noting that it can take up to a full year for them to return to their pre-vasectomy fertility levels.
Myth #2: Reversals Don’t Work Because of Anti-Sperm Antibodies
So this is a more specific version of the “vasectomies are irreversible” myth, and one you may have come across in your own research. If not, the gist is that while it’s physically possible to undo a vasectomy, it won’t work. Allegedly, this is because the patient’s own body starts producing antibodies that kill sperm cells.
This is a myth that’s gets parroted often because there is a small grain of truth to it.
Sperm are produced in what’s called an “immunologically privileged” area of the body. This means that they’re protected from the body’s own immune response. This privileged area can be compromised by trauma to the area, infection, or scrotal surgery like a vasectomy.
And it is true that some 75% of men develop anti-sperm antibodies following a vasectomy, which is where this myth comes from. However, in 95% of these patients, the numbers in which these antibodies are produced are not significant enough to decrease fertility. And even in the 5% of cases where it does occur, there are treatments that can mitigate the complications.
Myth #3: Vasectomy Reversal Guarantees the Ability to Conceive
On the other end of the spectrum, there are misconceptions that take a too-optimistic view of vasectomy reversals and how they work. This has led some men to get vasectomies early in life under the assumption that they can easily reverse it when they’re ready to have children.
While reversal is possible, it bears repeating that vasectomy is intended to be a permanent form of birth control. This is why during your initial consultation your urologist should have stressed the importance of weighing all your options.
No medical procedure has a 100% success rate. Hence why you should consider the likelihood that you will want a reversal before you get a vasectomy in the first place.
And besides, there are plenty of couples who struggle to conceive even without a vasectomy being in the equation, to begin with. About 15% of couples trying to have a child struggle with male fertility issues, and some vasectomy reversal subjects would have been in that group when they had their first procedure without knowing it.
Alternatively, unrelated factors like age, lifestyle choices, or underlying medical conditions can reduce male fertility. So even when vasectomy reversals are successful, there are myriad other causes for difficulty having children.
Myth #4: You Can Have Your Reversal Done by the Same Doctor Who Did Your Vasectomy
Many patients might assume that the urologist who handled their vasectomy in the first place can undo it as well. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case.
While a vasectomy is so simple that it can be done in as little as half an hour, a reversal is a more involved process. And it’s not one that many urologists can handle.
Many doctors might have a working knowledge of how to perform a reversal, so they’re not being dishonest. But you risk a lower success rate by going to a general urologist.
If you do decide to have a vasectomy reversed, it’s worth the effort to go to a dedicated specialist. There are even institutions like the International Center for Vasectomy Reversal (ICVR) where vasectomy reversals are all they do.
With so much riding on the success of the operation, it’s worth it to opt for more practiced hands.
Myth #5: There Is a Time Limit on Vasectomy Reversals
A recurring myth is that in order to be successful, a vasectomy reversal has to be carried out no more than 10 years after the original vasectomy.
While it is true that the chances of success increase the sooner you opt to have a reversal, there are plenty of cases of successful reversal 10 or even 20 years later.
The oft-quoted 10-year time limit comes from a medical paper published way back in 1976. Naturally, techniques have progressed considerably in the last 45 years, so that figure is no longer accurate.
Making the Right Choice for Your Vasectomy Reversal
The bottom line is that vasectomy and vasectomy reversal both are safe, effective, and minimally invasive procedures. While the myths surrounding these procedures come from an understandable place of apprehension, there are just that: myths.
Of course, family planning is just one aspect of your sexual health. To make sure that you’re living not only healthfully but satisfyingly, be sure to keep up with all of our latest health, wellness, and lifestyle news.