How Vasectomies Work

Vasectomy: History and Modern Times

Sterilization of males and females is the most common form of birth control around the globe, says the World Health Organization. More than 200 million people have been sterilized worldwide, and each country's government regulates the surgery according to different customs and standards. In some countries, your marriage status and family size determine whether you are eligible to receive the surgery [source: CDC]. But where did vasectomy begin?

As with most medical procedures, doctors experimented with vasectomy on animals before trying it on a human. The first known vasectomy was performed on a dog in 1823. We're not sure where the first human vasectomy took place, or who did it, but its appeal and desirability may have arisen when men realized that castration was no longer necessary as a treatment for certain prostate problems. With the advent of vasectomy, a man was able to keep his testicles, even with certain health conditions [source: Drake et al.].

Starting around 1900, during an infamous historical movement known as eugenic sterilization, vasectomy spread throughout Europe. Politicians and influential members of society campaigned for the sterilization of socially undesirable individuals in Germany, Switzerland and other countries. These leaders considered vasectomy to be a suitable option to prevent certain ethnic groups from procreating. Other groups that were sterilized at this time included the mentally ill and the criminally insane. Around the world in places like London, Cuba and the United States, prisoners and patients were forcibly sterilized. Around 65,000 men were sterilized in the United States during this "Vasectomania," and inmates were locked in confinement until their surgeries were complete. Later, in the early 1900s, vasectomy was thought to benefit men in several ways, including reversing senility and improving sexual health. One man was sterilized twice to reduce his excessive masturbation habit, with reported success [source: Drake et al.].

After World War II, vasectomies became widely used as a form of birth control, and they remain so today. During the 1970s, the Indian government offered cash incentives to hundreds of thousands of Indian men willing to receive vasectomies. Leaders were eager to increase birth control opportunities to the public, in order to reduce drastic population growth. Different regions in India competed to see who could sterilize the largest numbers of men [source: Leavesley]. Vasectomy grew in popularity around the globe during the last few decades of the 20th century, and most urologists in the United States started performing vasectomy reversals in the 1970s. Vasectomy and vasectomy reversal remain popular and safe around the world today [source: Kim].

Worldwide, only 5 percent of married men have had vasectomies, although one in six men in the United States over the age of 35 has had the surgery [source: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services]. In a 1999 study, researchers looked at the characteristics of men who were getting vasectomies in the United States. About 80 to 90 percent of the men who had received a vasectomy were white, non-Latino and married or in a long-term partnership. More than 80 percent had at least a high school education, and about half of the men had completed college [source: Barone et al.]. According to the CDC, vasectomy was the most common form of birth control used by American men in 2002, with a range of vasectomy rates across the country. Only 2 percent of men in Washington, D.C. were sterilized by the year 2000, compared to more than 30 percent of men in Oregon [source: Bensyl et al.].