The Future of Birth Control Means Facing Up to Its Sexist Past
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”.