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Sterilisation

Sterilisation is a permanent method of contraception. Sterilisation works by stopping the eggs and sperm meeting. Sterilisation is suitable for people who are sure they never want children or who do not want more children. Both men and women can be sterilised.

While there is no official age limit for sterilisation, doctors will want to be sure that a person is 100% sure about it, which can mean if a young person requests sterilisation some doctors may not want to refer them, or may suggest that they get counselling beforehand to make sure they have thought through everything first.

If this is something you are considering, you may want to find out about types of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) which are very effective methods and are reversible. The main types are the contraceptive implant, contraceptive injection, intrauterine device (IUD) and the intrauterine system (IUS).

Some key facts are:

  • Sterilisation will not protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • You’ll need to continue using contraception until the sterilisation has been confirmed as working
  • Sterilisation is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • You’ll still have periods after female sterilisation
  • Sterilisation is difficult to reverse
  • LARC methods of contraception can be as effective as sterilisation

What is sterilisation?

Sterilisation is a permanent form of contraception which involves an operation to stop the sperm and egg meeting.

  • Female sterilisation (also called tubal occlusion) is done by cutting, sealing or blocking the fallopian tubes which carry an egg from the ovary to the uterus (womb). With female sterilisation women will still get periods - you will still release an egg but this will be absorbed naturally.
  • Male sterilisation (also called a vasectomy) this is done by cutting and sealing or tying the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis.

It takes between four weeks and at least three months for sterilisation to be effective, depending on the method used.

 

How effective is sterilisation?

There is a risk that sterilisation will not work as in men and women, the tubes can rejoin afterwards (either immediately or some time after the operation). 

About one in 2,000 male sterilisations fail, and the overall failure rate for female sterilisation is about one in 200. 

Disadvantages of sterilisation

  • Although it isn’t common, the tubes can rejoin meaning that you will be fertile again
  • Sterilisation cannot be easily reversed – reversals are rarely funded on the NHS
  • Sterilisation does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections

Where can I get advice on sterilisation?

You can get information and advice on sterilisation from your GP surgery or contraception and sexual health clinics. You can find your nearest Brook service or if there is no Brook service near you, search sexual health services on NHS Choices or SXT.

Research has shown that more people regret being sterilised if they had the operation when they were under 30, didn’t have children or were not in a relationship. Sterilisation cannot easily be reversed and because, people who fall into these categories are likely to receive additional counselling to make sure that they are 100% certain they want to be sterilised. 

In some areas, NHS waiting lists for sterilisation can be quite long. You can pay to have a sterilisation done privately although this is expensive.

Contraception and sexual health services such as Brook are free and confidential, including for people under the age of 16. Health professionals work to strict guidelines and won’t tell anyone else about your visit unless they believe you're at serious risk of immediate harm. Find out more about Brook’s confidentiality policy.

How will sterilisation affect my periods?

The ovaries, uterus and cervix are left in place and so your hormones are not affected by the sterilisation. You will still ovulate and an egg is released but it is absorbed naturally by your body. Your periods will continue to be as regular as they were before. Sometimes some women find their periods become heavier. This is normally because they have stopped using hormonal contraception which may have made their periods lighter.

Can sterilisation be reversed?

Sterilisation is meant to be permanent.

Sterilisation cannot easily be reversed and reversal operations are not always successful. Reversals are rarely funded on the NHS and they can be difficult (and expensive) to get privately.

Hysteroscopic sterilisation (also known as Essure) which is a type of female sterilisation, cannot be reversed.

Page last reviewed: August 2015
Next review due: August 2017