Sterilisation is the only permanent method of contraception and involves cutting, blocking or sealing the tubes in men and women that carry either the sperm or eggs. It's more than 99 per cent effective. Failure is uncommon, but can happen when the tubes that carry the sperm or eggs rejoin.
Male sterilisation is called a vasectomy. Under local anaesthetic, a small cut is made in the skin of the scrotum. The tubes that carry the sperm from the testicles to the penis are then cut. The operation can take between 10 and 15 minutes. The scrotum recovers quickly. Feelings, sex drive, erections and climax remain the same as before. Sperm are still produced, but are naturally absorbed by the body. About eight weeks after the vasectomy, a test will be done to make sure there are no sperm left in the semen. When all the sperm are gone, the vasectomy is effective.
Lifetime failure rate is 1 in 2,000.
In female sterilisation, the tubes that carry the egg from the ovary to the womb are cut, sealed or blocked in an operation done under general or local anaesthetic. The ovaries, cervix and womb are all left in place. Feelings, sex drive and climax remain the same as before. An egg is still released each month, but is naturally absorbed by the body. Sterilisation is effective from the first menstrual period after the operation.
Sterilisation is permanent, so you won't have to think about contraception again.
It doesn't interfere with sex.
Vasectomy is simpler and more effective than female sterilisation.
The tubes may rejoin and fertility return.
Sterilisation is hard to reverse. The reversal operation is complicated, can be expensive and may not be successful.
It takes several months for sperm to disappear from the semen, so an extra method of contraception must be used until then.
Can anyone be sterilised?
Sterilisation is only for people who don't want any (more) children. You and your partner should consider all other long-term contraceptive options with a health professional before choosing this option. Some are more effective than female sterilisation. You shouldn't be sterilised as the result of a stressful event, such as birth, miscarriage, abortion or a relationship crisis.
Once the operation has worked, you won't need any further check-ups.
Where to get it
Sterilisation is available in the State Health services, but waiting lists vary. The operation can also be done privately. For further advice, talk to your GP, practice nurse or family planning clinic.