Do you know why Sigmund Freud, esteemed psychoanalyst, had a vasectomy when he was 67 years old? How about William Butler Yeats, the famed writer, having his vasectomy at 69 years of age. Were they that sexually active and worried about conceiving? God bless them if this is true!
Hardly. Believe it or not, vasectomies were done in the roaring twenties and thirties in Austria by an endocrinologist named Steinach for physical and mental rejuvenation. “It revived my creative power,” wrote Yeats in 1937. This may be true as Yeats wrote a crop of poems during this period that rank with his best work. At that time, a vasectomy was considered the “holy grail” of perpetual youth. Steinach felt that by blocking sperm flow, male hormone production in the testis would improve.
The idea of hormonal rejuvenation really started in earnest with an acclaimed endocrinologist named Brown-Sequard who in 1889 injected himself with testicular extracts from rats and dogs. This led to the trend of “organotherapy” in which all sorts of animal organs were injected for every conceivable human illness. Sound familiar at all? It also led to serious and productive experimental research on the function of glands in the body.
The rejuvenating vasectomy was not an isolated claim to fame by Eugen Steinach from Vienna. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize six times for innovative studies that showed that male or female development depended almost entirely on the sex glands and their secretions. Give this theory a pinch of salt to incorporate modern genetics and is it true enough today.
What went wrong with Steinbach’s vasectomy idea was that he believed that narrow biologic principles could be used to treat the wide and complex condition of human sexuality. The funny thing is, almost 100 years later, we are still trying to figure out how to stay young forever.