Sunday, June 15, 2008

Vasectomania, and Other Cures for Sloth

Fifty-six-year-old controller before (A) and after (B) the Steinach operation. From How to Restore Youth and Live Longer, by Serge Voronoff (1928).

Cabinet always has great articles on subjects that I would never even think about researching. Such as the glandular phenomenon that swept up both Europe and America in a frenzy to stay young and virile. See "Vasectomania, and Other Cures for Sloth".

At the turn of the 20th century sloth was considered the bain of modern society, people simply could not keep up with the new industrial pace. The prevailing thought was that human body parts simply give out after a certain amount of use, they run dry like old batteries, and the way to revive them is to replace the worn out parts. It's interesting to note that automobiles were becoming more prevalent during this time, and equating humans with cars, and well, it's understandable.

Russian Serge Voronoff who was living in Paris at the time, believed that the way to revive the fatigued human body was through testicular transplants. He became rather popular and was the go-to man for wealthy men to get their virility back. He took testicles from executed criminals and plopped them into the societal elite. When the procedure became too popular the suppliers could no longer keep up with demand. Voronoff turned to monkey testicles. He even wrote a book harking the benefits of the surgery, Rejuvenation by Grafting in 1925. He also set up a breeding ground for chimps, gorillas, and orangutans in the Italian Riviera that was tended by a former circus-animal keeper. The animal parts would have been rejected by the body, however the outward scarring caused doctors and patients alike to believe it was successful.

It's totally wild.

In Vienna, Eugen Steinach performed another popular form of vasectomies in which he would cut the ligature of the sperm duct. The tissue would die and make more room for the cells that produce testosterone, the Leydig cells, and endow the patient with new found chutzpah. Because he would only do the procedure on one testicle, the patient could still kick out some prime off-spring. Sigmund Freud and W.B. Yeats were among the more famous clients.

History note:

"Though he made it famous, the vasectomy was not invented by Steinach; it originated in the 1890s as a non-traumatic version of castration, which was then employed to treat enlarged prostates (one castrated patient had murdered his surgeon for having emasculated him, setting off the search for an alternative surgery). The first vasectomy done for non-medical reasons was performed by Harry Sharp in 1899 on a nineteen-year-old boy at a reformatory school in Indiana who indulged in excessive masturbation, long thought by religious zealots to be a by-product of the sin of sloth. After his operation, according to Sharp, the boy "became more of a sunny disposition, brighter of intellect and ceased to masturbate." By 1907, when Sharp helped push through the first Eugenic Act in his home state, he had operated on 176 other masturbating minors. By 1937, thirty-two states were performing eugenic sterilizations on criminals, the unfit, and the insane.

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