What is sterilisation?
Sterilisation is the only permanent method of contraception for women and is suitable for those who are sure they never want children or do not want more children.
How does it work?
It involves blocking, cutting or sealing the fallopian tubes that carry eggs from the ovary to the uterus. This stops the egg and sperm meeting.
Who can be sterilised?
It doesn't matter if you are single, married, divorced, widowed, childless or with a family. Research shows that more women regret sterilisation if they were sterilised when they were under 30, had no children or were not in a relationship. You should not decide to be sterilised if you are not completely sure or if you are under any stress, for example after a birth, miscarriage, abortion or family or relationship crisis. If you are in a relationship, we strongly advise you to talk things through with your partner, although their consent is not required.
What are the alternatives to female sterilisation?
There are other long-term methods that women can use to avoid getting pregnant. These include:
A copper intrauterine device (IUD/IUCD; also known as coils) - this is put into your uterus and can safely stay there for five - ten years depending on the type. If you are over 40 when it is fitted, it can be left in until you reach the menopause.
A progestogen intrauterine system (IUS) - this is a hormone-releasing IUD which lasts for five years.
A progestogen implant - this uses a small flexible tube inserted under the skin of the arm to release the hormone progestogen. The implant lasts for three years.
The other option is for your partner to have a vasectomy. All these methods are as effective or more effective than female sterilisation.
How effective is sterilisation?
Sterilisation is one of the most effective methods of contraception but is not 100% guaranteed.
Fewer than one in every 200 women who have been sterilised will become pregnant afterwards. There is also a higher risk of future pregnancy if your sterilisation is carried out at the same time as having an abortion. This is because the fallopian tubes may not have sealed completely or the tubes rejoin at a later date.
The risk of this happening is small but it is important to do a pregnancy test if you miss a period.
How soon can I have sex after the operation?
You can start to have sex again after the operation whenever you want to but we strongly recommend using another form of contraception until the end of your next period. This is because it may be possible that an egg may have already passed through your fallopian tubes beyond the point where they have been blocked during the operation and could be fertilised.
How safe is it?
As with all clinical procedures there is a small risk of complications. If you become pregnant after being sterilised, you will have an increased chance of having an ectopic pregnancy - this is where the embryo implants itself in a fallopian tube instead of the uterus. This is a dangerous condition and requires urgent medical attention.
The symptoms of ectopic pregnancy are very similar to those you would experience during a normal pregnancy such as a missed period, sickness and swollen breasts. These are accompanied by abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding, usually around six weeks into the pregnancy.
If this happens, it is essential to see a doctor immediately.
Is sterilisation reversible?
All sterilisation operations are meant to be permanent. The chances of an operation to reverse it being successful vary a great deal.
The most important thing to remember is that you are making a decision about the rest of your life. Bear in mind that your personal circumstances may change so do think very carefully about whether sterilisation is right for you.
How will sterilisation affect my body?
After you are sterilised, your ovaries will continue to produce eggs but these will be re-absorbed into the body instead of passing down the fallopian tubes to the uterus. If you were on the contraceptive pill before your sterilisation your periods may become heavier again, compared to the withdrawal bleeds you had while taking the pill. This is quite normal.
Being sterilised will not change the way you will experience the menopause.
Sterilisation also has no physical effect on women's sexual arousal or orgasm, although many women who have chosen to be sterilised say that their sex lives have improved because they are no longer worried about getting pregnant.
When can I stop using contraceptives?
You will need to use an effective method of contraception right up to the date of your operation and until the end of your next period to avoid the risk of pregnancy.