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.
In 1890 vasectomy is suggested as an alternative to castration by Ewing Mears for the treatment of severe symptoms of enlarged prostate glands. Then in 1899 Ochsner (future professor of Surgery at the University of Illinois) publishes his paper “Surgical treatment of habitual criminals”, which kick-starts the Eugenics movement. The Eugenics movement uses science to reform and control nature and human society. It stems from the idea of survival of the fittest.
In 1900, Harrison publishes a paper based on over 100 cases where Vasectomy was the primary procedure for the removal of bladder stones. Claims of rapid and substantial improvement with minimal morbidity led to the treatment being fashionable for a short time for management of enlarged prostate. Wood publishes a case study of 193 patients undergoing vasectomy as treatment for enlarged prostate. 15% had improved urination, but 67% manifested some “General improvement”.