The liberal sexual atmosphere in Costa Rica can have negative consequences when sex tourists and expats inadvertently procreate and then turn their backs on the situation or leave without knowing what they have done.
One way to avoid this is undergoing a vasectomy, but many men fear this procedure. They believe it will do something to their manhood, because of all the cultural mores associated with the procedure. Often, women have their say too: some of them believe a man is lesser if he is not functioning fully.
Of the three women interviewed last week in a beauty salon, one felt God made it very clear in the Bible that a man should not sterilize himself. Another, who is allergic to all types of contraception, said she felt her husband should have had a vasectomy before she had four kids. She is having a very hard time feeding them in these scant economic times. Her husband was in the salon too. When asked what he thought, he said he felt contraception was her responsibly, not his. He is also very religious and feels it is more important for a man to be able to reproduce than for the woman.
The youngest of the three women, a 23-year-old unwed mother of an 8-year-old daughter, knows a male friend who underwent the procedure and said she thought it was a very responsible decision on his part, since he already has three children with three different women.
Unbelievably, vasectomies and salpingectomies — the surgical removal of one or both of the fallopian tubes in a woman — were considered illegal procedures in Costa Rica until the year 2002. The illegality of the practice had been established in Article 123 of the Costa Rican Criminal Code. That year, the Constitutional Court ruled the procedures legal on the grounds that individual voluntary sterilization is a personal right. Only then the country started keeping public statistics on these surgical procedures.
Dr. Arturo Cabezas López, a pioneer in family medicine in Costa Rica, introduced the two interventions to Costa Rica in 1953. In an interview Friday, he shared the story that changed his life and guided his practice until retirement. Now at 86 years old, he retired just a few years ago. Cabezas left to study medicine in the United States in 1947 and returned to Costa Rica to practice as an intern in 1950. He said in the interview that one day a woman came to see him with a child in her arms and another clinging on her shirt. She was in tears. He asked her how he could help her and what the problem was. She told him she was pregnant and did not want to have any more children because she could not feed the ones she had.
The event affected the physician to such degree that he returned to the United States to learn how to do vasectomies and post-partum salpingectomies. When he returned to Costa Rica in 1953, he performed his first vasectomy, followed by his first salpingectomy in 1955.
Since these two procedures were illegal until 2002, he performed most of the operations free of charge for many years. He even traveled to rural farming communities and offered his services to those who did not want to have any more children. He remembers that during the Carazo presidency (1978 to 1982), Rodrigo Carazo Odio himself found out about Cabezas’ practices and personally went to court to have him stop. When the Catholic Church found out, the local bishop also prohibited the procedures. However, both attempts to stop his mission did nothing but publicize the physician’s services.
Why is this relevant to expats?
Well, Latin men tend to undergo fewer vasectomies than Anglo Saxon men. They believe it will do something to their masculinity. In 2007, only 1,238 procedures were performed in local public hospitals. That number exceeds four times the amount performed in 2003, but it is still insignificant, considering the size of the adult male population in the country.
However, Latin men should not be singled out as
ignorant or the overly macho. Foreign men, especially from the United States, feel they are God’s gift to Latin women.
Some foreigners come to play because of Costa Rica’s reputation as a sex-tourism destination. Even after a local television station and this newspaper covered a story about massage parlors pimping prostitutes, nothing was done by the government to stop their operations. In fact, the establishments were closed, but on the grounds of not offering access to disabled clients. They were sanctioned for municipal violations, not for their illegal activity. As expected, they were open again within days, this time offering wheelchair access for handicapped clients.
Other foreigners come to Costa Rica to play around with local women — not prostitutes — because it is common knowledge that one can find women of different nationalities in Costa Rica, and they also have a reputation of being very friendly with Americans. Among these men, some use condoms and others avoid them when possible. Men who use condoms do it mainly to protect themselves against disease, not for contraception reasons. Of the ones
that do not use protection, some could care less if the woman gets pregnant, and others just get on a plane to return home and leave Costa Rica behind.
Some expat men living here permanently play around too. Many of them are older and hook up with younger females. Some of those women also get pregnant and have their children, and many of those expats do not worry about their offspring’s future once they die. Most are living off of their Social Security, and since they do not leave much to a mother and their children, a typical consequence is the mother is forced into prostitution and the children into street crime.