Gender and risk assessment in contraceptive technologies


Kammen, Jessika van and Oudshoorn, Nelly (2002) Gender and risk assessment in contraceptive technologies. Sociology of Health & Illness, 24 (4). pp. 436-461. ISSN 0141-9889

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Abstract:This paper concerns a comparison of risk assessment practices of contraceptives for women and men. Our analysis shows how the evaluation of health risks of contraceptives does not simply reflect the specific effects of chemical compounds in the human body. Rather, we show how side-effects were rated differently according to the risk model that was adopted. Our analysis shows an important new aspect of risk assessment: lay perspectives of men are taken more seriously by experts and policymakers than those of women. In the case of male contraceptives, men’s wellbeing when using contraceptives was a central issue from the very beginning. Men’s emotional wellbeing and sexuality has been put on the international research agenda by the reproductive scientists themselves, and the need for long-term data about male contraceptives has been emphasised by the pharmaceutical industry. In the case of female contraceptives, the concern for the long-term effects of contraceptives was put forward by women’s health movements, and research into women’s mental health and libido when using hormonal contraceptives was initiated only at the instigation of women’s health advocates. We therefore conclude that the incorporation of lay interests in the experts’ methods of risk assessment shows a clear gender pattern. Whereas the perspectives of male contraceptive users have been emphasised and negotiated by authoritative spokespersons within the medical establishment, the incorporation of the interests and needs of female contraceptives users depended on women’s health advocates.
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Copyright:© 2002 Blackwell
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