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Overview of female sterilization

Kari P Braaten, MD, MPH
Caryn Dutton, MD, MS
Section Editor
Jody Steinauer, MD, MAS
Deputy Editor
Sandy J Falk, MD, FACOG


Female sterilization (also referred to as tubal ligation) can be performed using several different procedures and techniques that provide permanent contraception for women. The most common techniques prevent pregnancy by occluding the fallopian tubes. This prevents conception by blocking transport of sperm from the lower genital tract to an ovulated oocyte. Female sterilization is the second-most common contraceptive method in the United States and the most common contraceptive method worldwide [1,2].

This topic is an overview of female sterilization. Specific types of sterilization procedures, including postpartum sterilization or interval sterilization performed by laparoscopy or hysteroscopy, as well as other types of contraception, are discussed in detail separately. (See "Laparoscopic female sterilization" and "Postpartum sterilization" and "Hysteroscopic sterilization" and "Contraceptive counseling and selection".)


Female sterilization is the most common method of contraception worldwide, used by 19 percent of all women ages 15 to 49 years who are married or in a relationship union [3]. Reliance on female sterilization is highest in Asia (23.4 percent) and Latin America and the Caribbean (26 percent), and lowest in Africa (1.7 percent) and Europe (3.8 percent).

Female sterilization is one the most commonly used methods of contraception in the United States (US); 25.1 percent of contracepting women, or 15.5 percent of all women ages 15 to 44 (9.4 million women), rely on sterilization [4]. Female sterilization is second only to oral contraceptives, which are used by 25.9 percent of contraceptive users, or 16.0 percent of all women of childbearing age [4]. Prevalence of having had a female sterilization increases with age, marital status (currently or previously married), and increasing parity. Higher rates of sterilization are also found among women with public insurance or no insurance, African-American women, and Hispanic women not born in the US. Rates of sterilization decrease with increasing levels of education and income.

There were approximately 643,000 sterilization procedures in the US in 2006 [5]. Rates of female sterilization in the US peaked in the late 1970s, then plateaued in the 1980s. Interval sterilization (done outside the postpartum period) decreased by 12 percent from 1995 to 2006, while postpartum sterilizations have remained stable at approximately 8 to 9 percent of all US live births.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Feb 07, 2017.
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