Permanent Birth Control
Interviewer: You've had all the children you and your partner want. Your family is complete, and now you're considering permanent birth control. But how do you decide who gets it done? Is it the dad, and he gets a vasectomy, or is it the mom, and she gets tubal ligation?
Dr. Alex Pastuszak is a urologist and a fertility expert at University of Utah Health. What is your take on this question, tubal ligation or a vasectomy?
Dr. Pastuszak: So, Scott, I'm going to come right out and say that I would be strongly in favor of the vasectomy.
Interviewer: All right. But that's what you do, so I would expect that. Do you have some more support for it?
Dr. Pastuszak: Right, yeah. So, no, this has nothing to do with my pocket.
Dr. Pastuszak: But it has everything to do with the safety and the cost of the two procedures relative to one another.
Interviewer: All right. Break that down.
Dr. Pastuszak: So I would tell you that vasectomy is the safer and cheaper option compared to tubal ligation. So let's go ahead and, just like you said, break that down.
Tubal Ligation Risks
So what are the risks of tubal ligation? So we know that, just like a vasectomy, it can include bleeding and infection. Unlike vasectomy really, though, it can include injury to other organs because you're dealing with the tubes that are inside a woman's pelvis, which are really close to a lot of other sensitive structures.
Tubal ligation requires general anesthetic or strong regional, so the anesthesia is already more significant, and the side effects from that can be more significant than that for a vasectomy. And then just in terms of pregnancy itself. So while tubal ligation is just as effective, effectively, as vasectomy, so more than 99 percent, you can still run the risk of an ectopic pregnancy or incomplete closure of fallopian tube which results in pregnancy.
Now, if you counterpoint those against the risks of a vasectomy, then you're really just talking about bleeding, infection, some pain, and maybe failure of that vasectomy as the main risks. Very few.
Interviewer: And recovery is also much quicker for a vasectomy versus tubal ligation.
Dr. Pastuszak: Right. Because tubal ligation, again, you need to make an actual hole in the abdomen, which by surgical standards in this case, it's a minor surgery, but it's still much more major than a vasectomy.
Interviewer: Gotcha. What about the cost? I think this'll be a short conversation because vasectomy is cheaper.
Dr. Pastuszak: Well, it's cheaper, and the reason it's cheaper is just because you can do it in the office under local anesthesia.
Interviewer: Gotcha, gotcha. Is there a reason why a couple might actually want to get a tubal ligation versus a vasectomy in spite of the reasons that you just gave? Is there anything that you're aware of?
Dr. Pastuszak: So unless there's an actual reason that a man cannot physically get a vasectomy, and I can't think of one off the top of my head, they may exist, or the woman is already undergoing another surgical procedure, like a Caesarian section, and at the time of that procedure wants to go ahead and have that tubal ligation, I don't see any reason why a tubal ligation would be or should be preferred over a vasectomy.
Ectopic Pregnancy After Tubal Ligation
Interviewer: The difference is, though, a tubal ligation, a pregnancy could still occur that could be . . .
Dr. Pastuszak: That could be damaging to the woman.
Interviewer: Yes, exactly.
Dr. Pastuszak: In the setting of, say, an ectopic pregnancy.
Interviewer: Which means?
Dr. Pastuszak: Which means that the pregnancy actually starts in the fallopian tube, and since that fallopian tube is now closed, that fertilized egg can't get to the uterus, and so it starts growing in the fallopian tube, which becomes an urgent or emergent surgical situation for the woman.
Interviewer: And, as of right now, there are more tubal ligations than vasectomies in the United States, isn't there?
Dr. Pastuszak: That's right.
Interviewer: Yeah. Even though the other one is the clear winner, it sounds like, to me.
Dr. Pastuszak: Yes.
Interviewer: So, in this conversation, is there anything else that you would recommend for a couple to consider while having it, other than just kind of the facts that you laid out?
Dr. Pastuszak: So I think the couple really does need to have the facts because, you know, guys are (a) afraid. I shouldn't say afraid, but guys do not tend to seek medical care, right. In the US, women are often the driver of their own and their partner's and family's medical care. So that is one barrier to more men having vasectomies. In fact, maybe not most, but a lot of the men I see in my office come because their partner, their female partner asked them to come, not because they have taken the responsibility.
You know, and I would kind of put this back in the men's court just to sort of say, well, how sexy do you think your woman thinks you are, you know, if you're sitting there and pushing back against this vasectomy? What do you think she would think if you said, "Honey, I'm going to go ahead and get this vasectomy, and I'm going to do this for us and for our family"?
Interviewer: Yes, because it's a safer and a more economically cheaper option. That's pretty sexy.
Dr. Pastuszak: I think so.
Interviewer: So I think, finally, if in spite of all this information, a guy still has it in about getting that vasectomy, what would you say at that point? Because, to me, the course of action seems obvious, but men can still be hesitant. What would you say at that point?
Dr. Pastuszak: So I really do think information is power, and I know that men are hesitant. You know, at the very least, go get the facts. Go see somebody who knows what they're talking about this. Go see your local urologist. Just talk to him about it. He's not going to commit you to having a vasectomy in the office that day. It's your decision, but at least know objectively what you're walking into. And I will tell you, most of you will go with the vasectomy after you talk to him.
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