The Male Pill

A Biography of a Technology in the Making

The Male Pill

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: Published: September 2003

Author: Nelly Oudshoorn

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Science and Technology Studies > History of Technology, Sociology

The Male Pill is the first book to reveal the history of hormonal contraceptives for men. Nelly Oudshoorn explains why it is that, although the technical feasibility of male contraceptives was demonstrated as early as the 1970s, there is, to date, no male pill. Ever since the idea of hormonal contraceptives for men was introduced, scientists, feminists, journalists, and pharmaceutical entrepreneurs have questioned whether men and women would accept a new male contraceptive if one were available. Providing a richly detailed examination of the cultural, scientific, and policy work around the male pill from the 1960s through the 1990s, Oudshoorn advances work at the intersection of gender studies and the sociology of technology.

Oudshoorn emphasizes that the introduction of contraceptives for men depends to a great extent on changing ideas about reproductive responsibility. Initial interest in the male pill, she shows, came from outside the scientific community: from the governments of China and India, which were interested in population control, and from Western feminists, who wanted the responsibilities and health risks associated with contraception shared more equally between the sexes. She documents how in the 1970s, the World Health Organization took the lead in investigating male contraceptives by coordinating an unprecedented, worldwide research network. She chronicles how the search for a male pill required significant reorganization of drug-testing standards and protocols and of the family-planning infrastructure—including founding special clinics for men, creating separate spaces for men within existing clinics, enrolling new professionals, and defining new categories of patients. The Male Pill is ultimately a story as much about the design of masculinities in the last decades of the twentieth century as it is about the development of safe and effective technologies.


"[A] forceful analysis of the history of contraception. . . . Oudshoorn deftly captures the contradictions of technological change. . . . [A] meticulously researched, strongly academic book . . . . [A]n important contribution to the understanding of gender, culture, and technology." — Julie Craig, Bitch

"[A] welcome contribution to the history of reproductive rights. . . ." — Kirsten Gardner, Pharmacy in History

"[A]n innovative analysis. . . . This is a brilliant and much needed contribution to gender theory, science and technology studies, and the history and future of contraceptive research." — Laura Mamo , American Journal of Sociology

"[B]eautifully written and analytically quite sophisticated without being at all dense. . . . Each chapter pursues its complex objectives well and at a sufficient depth. The book's organization facilitates its use as a reference work; finding topics is easy and the index is thorough. This excellent organization will help make this book the canonic volume in male reproduction studies for decades. There is nothing else that even begins to do what Oudshoorn has quite elegantly accomplished." — Adele E. Clarke , Journal of the History of Medicine

"[F]ascinating. . . . The book . . . has much to offer contemporary theorizing around gender and embodiment. Oudshoorn's argument that performativity theories of gender tend to neglect technologies is well taken, and her book incites further research in this field." — Celia Roberts , Sociology

"[T]his book makes significant contributions to the field of science and technology studies and gender studies, as well as to the history of medicine. As a thorough and engaging treatment of an important subject, it deserves a wide audience." — Elizabeth Siegel Watkins , Medical Humanities Review

"It is well worth getting different views on a complicated topic like male contraception, with its mix of scientific, social, and cultural factors. The Male Pill, with its gender-politics perspective, offers one such view, and a valid one." — Carl Djerassi , TLS

"Nelly Oudshoorn explains that there are lots of reasons why you don't see men popping pills to prevent pregnancy (and why you probably won't anytime soon). . . . [A] good work of social science. . . ." — Lauren Kaminsky , Bust

"Oudshoorn provides a well-written, accessible and engaging book that contributes to the under-researched area of male contraceptive technology. The Male Pill is a timely exploration of a technology that is still in the making." — Jennifer Sarah Hester , Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society

"Oudshoorn’s book is an ambitious effort. Early chapters, on history, are perhaps too detailed, but this does not detract from her overall project. Her work is a well-documented
yet concise book, reflecting a multidisciplinary perspective. It would be a suitable text for graduate courses inwomen’s studies, history of science, sociology, and perhaps also philosophy. Advanced undergraduates might also benefit from the book, given ample time to discuss
and digest the complex and multiple issues raised." — Rebecca Plante , Gender & Society

"Oudshoorn's book is stimulating (although somewhat complex) to read, and the book in its entirety or selected portions thereof can potentially be very valuable additions to other readings in college courses that explore social or psychological issues of gender, scientific research, and health care. To date, it is probably the most comprehensive and stimulating exploration of the relevant gender and sociopolitical issues involved not only in the development of 'the male pill,' but also in the dynamics of contraception within the family." — George M. Kapalka , Sex Roles

"Oudshoorn's idiosyncratic analysis, incorporating sociological aspects and cultural attitudes, makes her book interesting reading for all who want to understand why men willing to participate in family planning have had to wait so long." — Geoffrey M. H. Waites , Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

[F]ascinating. . . . [T]his book is well worth reading for its careful and insightful analysis of the science and politics of the male pill. It fills a major gap in the still quite limited literature on male contraception and the male reproductive system as a whole. It also provides an excellent example of cultural analysis of the complexities of masculinity, medicine, and politics." — Cynthia R. Daniels, Journal of the American Medical Association

The Male Pill is a superb book on a very important and deeply interesting topic that has been amazingly understudied. It will be the canonic volume in male reproduction studies for several decades. There is nothing else that even begins to do what Nelly Oudshoorn accomplishes here.” — Adele E. Clarke, author of Disciplining Reproduction: Modernity, American Life Sciences, and the Problems of Sex

“While many reviews have been written about the technical aspects of male reproductive research, this book explores the complex, associated social factors. It deserves to be read by all involved in the field and by all those who ask ‘Why have women had so many contraceptive options for so long while men have so few?’” — Geoffrey M. H. Waites, former manager of the Male Task Force of the World Health Organization’s Human Reproduction Programme


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nelly Oudshoorn is Professor of Gender and Technology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. She is the author of Beyond the Natural Body: An Archaeology of Sex Hormones and coeditor of Bodies of Technology: Women’s Involvement with Reproductive Medicine and How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Part I. Overcoming Resistance: Constructing Alternative Sociotechnical Networks

1. Designing Technology and Masculinity 3

2. How Man Came to Be Included in the Contraceptive Research Agenda 19

3. Creating a Worldwide Laboratory for Synthesizing Hormonal Contraceptive Compounds 52

4. The Inaccessible Man: The Quest for Male Trial Participants and Test Locations 69

5. The Co-construction of Technologies and Risks 86

Part II. Configuring the User: Articulating and Performing Masculinities

6. The Politics of Language: Changing Family Planning Discourse to Include Men 113

7. Making Room for Men: Configuring Men as Clients of Family Planning Clinics 140

8. "The First Man on the Pill": Disciplining Men as Reliable Test Subjects 171

9. On Masculinities, Technologies, and Pain: The Testing of Male Contraceptives in the Clinic and Media 191

10. Articulating Acceptability 209

11. Technologies of Trust 225

Notes 243

Bibliography 269

Index 293
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2005 Rachel Carson Prize, Society for the Social Studies of Science

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3195-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3158-2
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