One hundred million — that’s how many sperm cells, on average, swim around in one milliliter of semen. To replenish that supply, the testicles produce roughly 1,500 new sperm each day. But after a vasectomy, a surgical procedure that stops people from ejaculating sperm, these swimmers can’t bust out. So what happens to sperm after a vasectomy?
First, it’s important to understand where sperm come from, and how they make it outside the body. Sperm cells are produced inside the testicles, where they’re stored in a tangle of ducts called the epididymis. During ejaculation, a series of muscle contractions pushes sperm into the vas deferens — a long tube that reaches upwards and winds its way around the bladder and through the prostate — where semen is mixed into the sperm. During ejaculation, the vas deferens then delivers the whole concoction out through an opening in the penis called the urethra.
A vasectomy doesn’t stop sperm production. A doctor simply snips and seals the vas deferens, trapping the sperm inside the testicles. So why don’t your balls swell up like a balloon after the procedure? As it turns out, sperm are pretty short-lived cells. After they’re produced, they live in the epididymis for between 42 and 76 days, according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco. After that, the sperm cells die and the body absorbs them. The same thing happens when you’re single and going through a dry spell — your balls don’t burst then either.
But what about blue balls? Is there any chance that not ejaculating sperm could lead to this painful condition?
The technical name for blue balls is “epidydimal hypertension,” — and it has nothing to do with where your sperm does or doesn’t go. When a person becomes aroused, the arteries pump blood to their genitals, and blood vessels nearby constrict to keep the blood there. When a person doesn’t have an orgasm, it can take a while for the blood vessels to relax and allow that blood to flow back into the rest of the body. That can lead to a heavy, sore feeling, according to Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice blog.
Although a vasectomy doesn’t cause blue balls, it can cause a different kind of pain in the testicles. Vasectomies can lead to epididymitis — swelling of the epididymis — and sperm granuloma, or a hard, painful lump that forms at the end of the severed vas deferens tube. These conditions can lead to post-vasectomy pain syndrome, or unexplained pain in the testicles that lasts longer than three months and occurs in 1% to 2%of men who receive vasectomies, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
But the majority of men, sex and ejaculation doesn’t look or feel any different after a vasectomy, according to Penn Medicine. The semen doesn’t even change in appearance — it’ll be the same color and consistency as always.
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