It is difficult to find another surgical procedure as simple as vasectomy that has sparked so much medical and social controversies for more than a century. The history of this procedure is a combination of finding the the most ideal technique and the best results but also filled with misconceptions, false beliefs and incorrect indications. Vasectomy has a long and interesting history. The term vasectomy means an excision of the vas deferens. In Latin, vas means vessel and deferre means to carry down. As a medical term, vasectomy is somewhat misapplied because only part of the vas deferens is excised during the procedure. Vas deferens as an anatomic structure was not a subject of significant clinical and research interest until the nineteenth century.
Most people believe that the practice of vasectomy started in 1950 but the concept of male birth control dates as far back as the 1640’s when the first known condoms were used. The first condoms were made from fish and animal intestines. It was believed they were used to stop sexually transmitted disease.
In 1830, Sir Ashley Cooper’s “Observations on the Structure and Diseases of the Testis” was published in London. Cooper found that when the blood vessels of a dog’s testicle were tied, no issues followed coitus. This experiment on the dog, is what seeded the development of a surgical procedure for birth control in men called vasectomy. The dog, however, retained the ability to produce sperm even after 6 years of the surgery. In 1847, Gosselin found while dissecting human corpses with the vas deferens entirely blocked. He started studying the effects of removing part of the vas deferens and tying it together using dogs for his experiments.
In 1844, the first rubber condoms were being used for male birth control. Goodyear and Hancock began to mass produce condoms made out of vulcanized rubber. Vulcanization is a process which turns crude rubber into a strong elastic material. In 1861, the first advertisement for condoms was published in the New York Times. The printed ad was for Dr. Power’s French Preventatives. Unfortunately the Comstock Law, named after Anthony Comstock, was passed in 1873 making it illegal to advertise any sort of birth control. The law also allowed the postal service to confiscate condoms sold through the mail. We have come a long way since then.
More on this interesting piece of history coming up in part 2.