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The Future of Birth Control Means Facing Up to Its Sexist Past - Printable Version

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The Future of Birth Control Means Facing Up to Its Sexist Past - C C - Sep 12, 2017

EXCERPT: [...] In Donna Haraway’s 1984 A Cyborg Manifesto, the feminist technologist writes that, “the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.” When it comes to women’s bodies, the illusion is strong: we’ve been trained to see reproductive technologies as a natural extension of women’s biology.

But when you talk about the possibility of men taking similar steps to alter their reproductive function, the conversation—and its tone—changes completely. Take RISUG, or “reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance,” a contraceptive for men that’s been in development for decades. It works like this: a polymer gel is injected into the vas deferens, which renders sperm ineffective by reversing its positive electrical charge, rupturing each sperm’s cell membrane as it passes. Another injection breaks down the gel, so that patients become fertile once again.

282 couples in India have been using the drug for decades, with a 99 percent success rate. But many mainstream publications refer to the drug as “sketchy” or “like drain-o,” even while claiming to support male contraceptives in theory. The headline that the British tabloid Metro chose for a report about RISUG is typical of how seriously it’s taken by much of the media: “Contraceptives for men are finally here…but it involves an injection in your balls”. These flippant dismissals of a promising drug betray deeper beliefs about male and female bodies: the scrotum is sacrosanct, while the uterus is an open biological playground.

[...] As medical historian Nelly Oudshoorn argues in The Male Pill, the field of gynecology was invented because late-19th-century scientists believed that women’s bodies were more innately linked to sex and reproduction than men’s, and as a result, research focused on how women would bear the burden of reproductive control. These attitudes remain today [...]

[...] The goals of poverty reduction and empowerment are coming together, but organizations like the Gates Foundation are still far more focused on women’s responsibility than men. It invested more than $147.9 million in women’s contraceptives in 2015, compared to only $600,000 for “testing the feasibility” of “disruptive and high risk approaches” to male contraceptives.
For male contraception to become a big part of global reproductive control efforts, we might need to shift our thinking away from the gender divide altogether....


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