The definition of permanent contraception is any procedure that effectively prevents pregnancy for the rest of a person's life.
Definition of Permanent Contraception
When using birth control pills, condoms, or other types of contraception, pregnancy becomes possible as soon as the man or woman discontinues use of the contraceptive. Types of temporary contraception include diaphragms, spermicides, IUDs, male condoms, hormonal vaginal rings, and birth control pills.
Unlike temporary contraception, permanent contraception lasts forever. Only men and women who are certain they do not want any future children should undergo a permanent contraception procedure. While permanent contraception is reversible in some cases, these reversal procedures are complicated, expensive, and provide no guarantee of a successful pregnancy.
Methods of Permanent Contraception
Currently, there are three types of permanent contraception methods available to men and women.
Vasectomy is a type of permanent contraception for men with more than 400,000 men undergoing the procedure each year in the United States. The procedure involves making a small incision in the upper part of the scrotum, then cutting and tying off the tubes that transport sperm into the seminal fluid.
Vasectomies are usually done as outpatient procedures, often right inside a doctor's office. The surgeon applies local anesthesia to numb the area before making the incision and the procedure is over in less than 30 minutes. Recovery time is minimal, and the man will still produce semen following the vasectomy. However, the semen will no longer contain sperm and cannot cause pregnancy.
Tubal ligation, or tubal sterilization, is a surgical procedure that permanently prevents pregnancy in a woman by blocking eggs from reaching the uterus. Tubal ligation also effectively prevents sperm from reaching the fallopian tubes. Tubal ligation is the most popular form of contraception in the United States, with more than 700,000 procedures performed each year. Doctors perform most tubal ligations in a hospital or surgical clinic under general anesthesia. During the procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision in the lower abdomen. He then cuts or cauterizes the fallopian tubes.
This form of permanent contraception has the following effects on a woman's body:
- The fallopian tubes are separated and sealed, preventing the sperm from meeting and fertilizing the women's eggs.
- Ovaries function normally, though the eggs released break up and are absorbed into the body.
- Initial complications and side effects include dizziness, nausea, flatulence, and minor pain. Rarely, bleeding, infections, or reactions to anesthesia occur. In addition, female sterilization may fail in a small percent of women, which may lead to ectopic pregnancy.
Hysteroscopic sterilization is a newer type of permanent contraception that involves the placement of small coils into the fallopian tubes. With time, scar tissue develops around the coils, blocking the fallopian tubes and preventing pregnancy. The procedure is less invasive than a tubal ligation and does not require the use of general anesthesia. This makes it a safer alternative for many women. Doctors use a hysteroscope with a camera on one end to reach the fallopian tubes and implant the coil. The scope enters through the cervix, which means no incision is necessary and the entire procedure takes less than 30 minutes.
Pregnancy after "Permanent" Contraception
The definition of permanent contraception is somewhat misleading, as each type of permanent contraception does still allow a small risk of pregnancy.
- In the case of hysteroscopic sterilization procedures, women must use another form of contraception for at least 3 months following the procedure in order to allow sufficient scar tissue to develop to prevent pregnancy. Hysteroscopic sterilization effectively prevents pregnancy in 99 percent of patients.
- About 14 out of 1000 women become pregnant following a tubal ligation. While this number may seem high, a tubal ligation is still one of the most effective forms of contraception available. Tubal ligations are reversible, with 75 to 85 percent of women becoming pregnant following a tubal reversal procedure.
- Only about 15 out of 10,000 couples conceive in the first year following a vasectomy, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. This makes vasectomies the most effective type of permanent contraception.
Talk to your doctor about the ramifications of permanent contraception and discuss what options are best for your particular case. You should only consider permanent contraception if you are absolutely certain you do not want to become pregnant in the future.