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Erectile dysfunction, or ED as its most commonly known, is a sexual disorder that affects erectile function in males. This condition can stem from physical or mental issues, which means the cause list can be extensive. Over the years, experts have identified and ruled out several causes to give patients a clearer outline of what ED is fueled by.
However, some surgical procedures like the vasectomy are still on the fence of the cause list. This is because of the mixed opinions and research found on the procedure. Statistics show that approximately half a million men in the US opt for a vasectomy each year, and they need to consider plenty of factors before going under the knife.
But is the ability to achieve and maintain an erection one of them? Below we aim to find out if there is a link between vasectomies/ED and more:
Vasectomy and Erectile Dysfunction Explained
When it comes to sexual conditions such as erectile dysfunction, it's difficult to link possible causes to it without properly understanding the concept of condition and cause. In this case, we are looking at the possible link between vasectomies and ED, so let's start by understanding the procedure and condition individually.
A vasectomy is defined as a minor surgical procedure that falls under the category of permanent male contraception. It has the lowest failure rate of any method of birth control and allows individuals to engage in unprotected sex without the risk of pregnancy. Although the procedure prevents pregnancy, it does not stop sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and diseases.
The procedure is quick and simple and is done under local anesthetic in less than 30 minutes. It involves the cutting and sealing of tubes that run through the penis and connect to the testicles. These tubes transport sperm from the testicles to the penis. The sealing of the tubes stops men from ejaculating sperm when they orgasm. Instead, semen is released on its own.
ED, on the other hand, is a condition that affects erectile function by preventing an erection from forming and being sustained. The condition can be caused by physical trauma or conditions which affect blood flow to the penis following stimulation, stopping an erection from properly forming.
Some physical causes include atherosclerosis (hardening or blocked arteries), heart disease, high blood pressure/sugar, or injury. Emotional or mental issues like depression, anxiety, abuse, trauma, stress, and more can also cause ED.
In essence, vasectomies and ED directly affect the penis and penis function from different angles. The vasectomy stops the transportation of active sperm from the testicles to the penis, while ED is primarily caused by a disruption of erectile processes—a lack of blood flow to the penis.
Erectile Dysfunction and Vasectomy: Myth or Reality?
So we've touched on what vasectomies and ED are and how they occur, giving us a clear picture of what happens to the penis and penis function following this procedure or the presence of ED. After looking at these basics, it's clear that a vasectomy cannot cause the development of ED because it does not affect any aspect of blood flow to the penis.
There is clinical evidence that suggests otherwise, showing that some men did experience ED after having a vasectomy, but the data points to less frequent or weaker erections experienced by just 2% of men during the recovery period only.
ED that occurs during recovery periods can be attributed to pain or discomfort and has no direct link to the vasectomy procedure. To further solidify that a vasectomy is not the cause of ED or ED is not a side effect of a vasectomy, we look at the different methods used to perform a vasectomy below:
The most common surgical method involves making one or two tiny cuts into the upper areas of the scrotum. Through these incisions, a surgeon will tie or seal off the vas deferens (sperm ducts), which move sperm from its storage place in the testicle to the urethra.
The second surgical method is called the no-scalpel vasectomy (NSV), which involves the tying or sealing off the vas deferens without making a surgical incision. The procedure is done through a small hole in the scrotum that was made with locking forceps, more commonly referred to as a hemostat.
It's evident that both these methods effectively stop sperm from traveling into the sperm ducts and exiting the penis during ejaculation. The processes involved in carrying out a vasectomy do not affect the biological processes that support the formation and maintenance of an erection.
An erection is formed with the support of two processes—sexual arousal and blood flow. Sexual arousal is largely psychological, working with moods and levels of attraction. Blood flow is physical, with factors like cardiovascular health, body weight, and overall health affecting how blood flows into the penis.
After looking at the surgical approaches to a vasectomy, it's clear that neither arousal nor blood flow is affected by a vasectomy. Research found that men who opt for a vasectomy rarely report ED as a side effect. One study even showed that vasectomy surgery positively impacts sexual function, with no increased risk of ED being noticed following the procedure.
What Won't Happen After a Vasectomy
There are many misconceptions surrounding vasectomies and the possible side effects that might follow the procedure. However, 99% of these are myths, and studies confirm that the procedure is safe and effective. It even carries a low side effect rate, and none of the side effects include impotence or ED.
Once the surgery is done, it does not eliminate the ejaculatory or orgasmic function of the body/penis. A vasectomy only means that ejaculation fluid (semen) will contain no sperm that can fertilize an egg. Sperm actually makes up less than 3% of semen. The color, taste, and volume of the liquid remain the same, so the difference post-vasectomy is essentially unnoticeable to the naked eye.
A vasectomy will not affect:
After a vasectomy, men are still able to produce sperm. However, the sperm is soaked up by the body and cannot reach the semen. This means that women will not be able to get pregnant from the semen. If men wish to procreate, the procedure can be safely reversed. Evidence from the BC Medical Journal confirms that there are multiple approaches to vasectomy reversal that allow men to successfully impregnate a woman.
Masculinity or sexuality
Feelings of masculinity or sexual orientation will not be affected by a vasectomy. It does not affect the limbic system. This means that a vasectomy cannot directly change men's emotional or mental stance. A PubMed study shows that there is no link between the notion of de-musculation/change in sexuality and a vasectomy.
Sex drives, sexual desire, or libidos
Research shows that a vasectomy will not affect sex drives, desire, or libidos because the surgical process does not negatively affect any organ responsible for hormone secretion or function. This allows libidos and sexual desire to remain normal.
Other sexual organs and their functions
The male reproductive system contains external organs— penis, testes, scrotum, and internal organs— prostate gland, vas deferens, and urethra. The normal functioning of these organs is based on hormones released from the brain. A vasectomy only affects the vas deferens responsible for moving sperm from the testes to the urethra/penis. It doesn't affect other reproductive organs or their functions.
Testosterone and other hormone levels
Testosterone is primarily created by the testes. Since the vasectomy involves the scrotum, most assume that testosterone and associated hormone levels will be affected, but they are not. Research shows that a vasectomy does not affect the pituitary-gonadal axis hormones, which are tasked with testosterone release and regulation.
Psychological Erectile Dysfunction After a Vasectomy
We've confirmed that a vasectomy cannot physically stop an erection from forming, yet there is still some looming evidence of men experiencing sexual dysfunction following the procedure. This issue of dysfunction actually doesn't come from the procedure itself but rather from the negative mental association individuals have with vasectomies.
As we mentioned previously, an erection is more than a rigid penis that shows up at any sign of sexual desire. It is a process that involves several systems in the body. For men to form a viable erection, they need to be in the ideal frame of mind, so of course, if users have a bad emotional or psychological reaction to the operation, this could stop the erection process from being properly carried out.
Some men could experience a psychological block post-surgery—loss of masculinity or depression fueled by the idea of becoming permanently infertile. However, research from NCBI shows that this response is a relatively rare reaction typically related to misunderstandings and a lack of counseling about what a vasectomy is and its effect on the body. This very faint mental connection is the strongest link recorded between ED and a vasectomy. Besides that, there is no connection between the two.
The Bottom Line
The surgical procedure of a vasectomy versus the physiological process of an erection don't in the slightest affect each other. A successful erection uses the circulatory system to pump enough blood to the penis to make it hard, the nervous system to send appropriate signals from the brain to the penis, and hormones to support the psychological aspect of arousal.
Having the vas deferens (sperm ducts) cut or sealed does not interfere with the circulatory system, nervous system, or hormones, confirming that a vasectomy cannot cause ED. Like any operation, though, vasectomies have side effects, but these tend to be uncommon and minor such as short-term bleeding, bruising, and pain.
To further solidify the disconnect between a vasectomy and ED, we found systematic review notes from several studies which show men experienced improvements in sexual function after undergoing a vasectomy. The evidence pointed to an increase/improvement in:
the frequency of sexual intercourse
In hindsight, a vasectomy can actually help sexual function instead of hindering it. If you plan to have a vasectomy, there is no possibility of experiencing ED unless the condition was present or diagnosed before the procedure.
Nu Image Medical has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.