Jan. 28, 2002 -- Couples who've seen enough of the stork have
two basic choices: birth control or sterilization.
Birth control can be very effective but has its drawbacks.
Condoms and diaphragms get in the way, and health risks haunt users of the
pill, implants, or IUDs. For those who've had enough little bundles of joy for
one lifetime, sterilization is an attractive option.
The downside: somebody has to take responsibility. Usually it's
the woman. In the U.S., female sterilization is more than 2.5 times more common
than male sterilization. Yet a woman who has her tubes tied faces a far more
complex, risky, and expensive operation than a man who has a vasectomy.
New, "no-scalpel" vasectomies have made male
sterilization simpler. Will it ever get simple enough for more men to step
"With the current incisionless approach, one still has to
make a puncture in the skin," Nathaniel M. Fried, PhD, tells WebMD. "We
are trying to take things one step further. We want to completely avoid
bleeding and scrotal pain."
Fried, an assistant professor of urology at Johns Hopkins
University, leads a research team working on an ultrasound vasectomy machine.
It's not ready for prime time -- animal studies continue -- but a technology
firm is backing the approach with an eye to eventual human tests.
How does it work? A vasectomy cuts a piece out of the tube --
the vas deferens-- that lets sperm leave the testicles and enter the semen.
This is why a man with a vasectomy is said to be "shooting blanks." His
sexual function and semen production is otherwise normal -- except that he can
no longer get a woman pregnant.
The ultrasound device has three parts. One is a water balloon
that covers the skin. Chilled water runs through the balloon to keep the skin
from burning. The second part is a clamp that holds the vas deferens in place.
The third part is an ultrasound machine that focuses sound waves on the vas
deferens. At the point of focus, the ultrasound energy creates intense