Since I’m a person who does not want to get pregnant at the moment the topic contraception does of course play a role in my everyday life. But also in the media and feminist discourses the critique towards the contraceptive pill and the topic of “Pillenmüdigkeit” (a German term describing the recent tendency of women getting tired of the pill an thus, stopping to use it altogether) has gained presence in the past years. Because of this I was very curious to read Franka Frei’s new book “Überfällig. Warum Verhütung auch Männersache ist” ((Overdue. Why contraception is also men’s business) in which she shows which contraceptive methods exist for men and other people with a penis – and why (the majority of) these have not made it to the market yet.
With her book Frei provides an important (and long overdue) addition to the debate surrounding the issue of contraception and makes clear what could be possible for all those people who – like many men that I know – are not too enthusiastic about the few limited options that they have (mostly either condom or vasectomy). Frei’s aim is not to propose one ideal form of contraception. She rather argues that everyone should have the possibility to make the right contraceptive choice for themselves. Which options already exist, might surprise those who decide to read this book.
Apart from contraception ‘for men’ “Überfällig” also exposes how the debate surrounding the ‘pill for men’ is embedded in larger social structures and power relations by telling the (problematic) history of contraception and explaining why most contraceptives for men haven’t made it to the market. By doing that the book highlights the political dimensions of contraception between patriarchy, eugenics, climate crisis, neo-colonialism, and feminist revolution.
I gained a lot of new knowledge from the book and was surprised to learn which forms of contraception already exist that are used by thousands of men with penis but hardly known. In my opinion the biggest strength of the book is how Frei highlights that the history of contraception is inextricably linked to eugenics as well as racist and other hateful and discriminatory politics. Besides the historical overview “Überfällig” also includes current discourses around global warming, not only by discussing how environmentally friendly different contraceptives are but rather by addressing how (racist) fears of overpopulation are tied into neo-colonial structures and programs.
The tone with which Frei approaches the topic is humorous (sometimes maybe a little too casual) and easily accessible for people who are new to feminist discourses. A glossary and introductory words about the language that is used contribute to the comprehensibility of the book. Frei also points to the fact that the binary German language often lacks the fitting terms to portray the topic of contraception which is often approached from a heteronormative viewpoint.
While linguistic complexities are being addressed, the historical overview in “Überfällig” fell a bit flat. I would’ve wished for more space for historical complexities and a more nuanced approach towards some aspects of contraceptive history. However, I am aware that this critique is probably grounded in my individual perspective as a reader. Due to my studies and previous reading, I already approach the topic with a lot of knowledge and therefore, have different expectations than most other readers.
Another point of critique is that the publisher apparently did not pay that much attention while correcting the book because there were some simple mistakes regarding page numbers or orthography that could’ve easily been avoided through careful proofreading. Hopefully these mistakes can be corrected in future editions of the book. Other than Frei’s previous book “The period is political. A manifesto against the menstrual taboo” I had the impression that her new release was a little more structured which made it easier for me to follow her argument, although I felt like some parts were a little repetitive.
For my personal taste the sources could’ve also been made more visible in the text: When I tried looking up one of the topics because I found it so interesting, I was unable to figure out where exactly the information was taken from. Even when a nonfiction book doesn’t need to adhere to the same standards as academic works, this transparency should be a given – especially when listing a bibliography. But once again this critique is founded in my own perspective as an academic reader with a lot of interest but also previous knowledge about the topic.
Overall, the book was very fascinating and educational. If you want to learn something about contraception for people with penises, this book is definitely the right choice! “Überfällig” adds a new and interesting perspective to the discourse and shows once again that the private is in fact quite political.
Thank you to Goldmann for the review copy! You can learn more about the book here and you can find my review of Franka Frei’s “Periode ist Politisch” (The Period is Political) here.
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