Healthy Living: Vasectomies
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The first recorded vasectomy was done on a dog in 1823. By the early 1900s, vasectomies were being performed on men, but at that point the procedure had some negative associations—it was used to forcibly sterilize prisoners in the U.S. and other countries, and was championed by supporters of eugenics.
After World War II, vasectomies became a common method for birth control. But the procedure, along with other forms of contraception, was controversial. The landmark 1965 Supreme Court Case Griswold v. Connecticut ruled that a state’s ban on the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy. Prior to that ruling, Connecticut law outlawed vasectomies and other forms of birth control stating, “any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purposes of preventing conception shall be fined not less than forty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days.”
Because of its historic controversy and that the fact that it remains uncomfortable for many men to discuss any procedure involving that particular area (never mind one that involves a sharp medical implement), some misinformation about vasectomies persists.
“There are two basic misconceptions about a vasectomy,” says Dr. Jeffrey Small, a Bridgeport pediatric urologist who runs the Vasectomy Center of Fairfield County. “One is that it’s a painful procedure, and the second is that it can possibly affect performance. A, it’s not a painful procedure at all, it only takes a few minutes in the office; and B, it has absolutely no effect at all on performance.”
The procedure is fairly straightforward. Sperm are formed in the testicles, and then pass through two tubes called the vasa deferentia to other glands and mix with seminal fluids to form semen. During a vasectomy each vas deferens is cut and cauterized, which blocks the sperm and keeps it out of the seminal fluid. After the procedure, sperm are absorbed by the body instead of being ejaculated, thus ejaculation can no longer cause pregnancy.
Getting a vasectomy is generally a short in-office procedure performed under local anesthesia with no sedation required. The patient can drive himself to and from the office.
The procedure also has a high success rate and pregnancies following it are extremely unlikely.
Dr. David Rosenberg of Associated Urologists in Manchester says that the age range of men considering vasectomies varies.
“Typically we’re looking at men in their late twenties, early thirties, all the way to men in their early to mid-fifties,” he says. “It’s generally men who have been using contraception for a long time and no longer want to use contraception, or their spouse has an adverse reaction or increased risk from using contraception.”
Though there are permanent birth-control options available to women, such as tubal ligation, a vasectomy is generally considered a less-invasive procedure.
“There are some newer permanent sterilization techniques that can be offered to women in the office-based setting, however the vast majority are still done in the hospital under anesthesia,” explains Rosenberg. He adds that there are also dangers associated with birth-control medication as women age. “We know that birth control, which women commonly take, should not be taken over the age of 35, especially in the smoking population, because of risk of increased blood clots.”
As a result, the decision to get a vasectomy is often seen as a way for a couple to share the birth-control burden—and a procedure that wives are often in favor of.