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Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  218 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
From thriving black market to big business, the commercialization of birth control in the United States

In Devices and Desires, Andrea Tone breaks new ground by showing what it was really like to buy, produce, and use contraceptives during a century of profound social and technological change. A down-and-out sausage-casing worker by day who turned surplus animal intestines
Paperback, 384 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by Hill and Wang (first published 2001)
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Dec 23, 2010 Laura rated it liked it
I think I would have gotten more out of this book if Tone had gone in a coherent chronological order. However, with all of her jumping around, it was a hard to develop a real sense of timeline which would have greatly helped with analyzing changing attitudes toward contraception (especially concerning individuals such as Margaret Sanger). I did really like the chapter on the military's shifting stances on prophylactics (and the recurring discovery that just telling men to be abstinent does nothi ...more
Marla McMackin
Andrea Tones’ Devices & Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America (2001) challenges outdated understandings of sexual knowledge and practice with an examination of the birth control industry under Comstock. Utilizing trade journals, business records, personal papers, medical studies, credit reports, and arrest records, Tone presents a business and social history in three parts, beginning with an examination of a black-market era of the late nineteenth century. Ultimately, she asserts t ...more
Feb 13, 2012 Jason rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Lots of interesting information, of course. But as historical analysis, this book fails completely. It reads the past through the lens of the present as if the present was obviously morally superior. There is no attempt to think through the issues, so it draws a very skewed sketch of the past.
Nov 12, 2015 Courtney rated it liked it
Great info from the Comstock Act forward, but nothing prior. Tacking on a year range to the title would have given me a better sense of what I was choosing to read alongside my other comp exam books. It said little to me in the way of actual gender concerns which disappointed me. Still, lots about the competitive contraceptive market...which made me glad to be alive now. Some of the umm, adverse side effects? Well they were properly horrifying. Vaginal burns, mercury poisoning, disfigured fetuse ...more
May 16, 2012 Stacey rated it liked it
Shelves: 19th-century-sex
Title slightly off as most of the imformation seems to be Victorian era and the age of Comstock laws, not so much on the early history but still overall a facinating glimpse of birth control.
This book covers the history of contraceptive devices in America from the mid-1800s to the late 20th-century, from the condom to the Depo-Provera birth control shot, from the black-market trade to a thriving multi-million dollar medical industry. Andrea Tone covers the controversy, the danger, and the freedom contraception provided to the American people. She also explores how the increasing medicalization of birth control has both benefitted and hurt the American public. Lots of information and ...more
A well-detailed history of contraception in America, starting with Comstock and ending more or less in modern times, where we have a dazzling array of highly effective options but lingering dissatisfaction. The chapters on the early condom industry provided colorful insight into the origins of a now highly standardized device, and the history of toxic douches and the Dalkon Shield provided important counter-examples to any romanticization of the the freewheeling days of contraceptive experimenta ...more
This was such an interesting book. It was fascinating and cringe-worthy in turns (merciful heavens was it cringe-worthy), and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. As an American, the evolution of contraceptives in this country, from on the streets to over the counter to the doctor's office. It's good information to file away, especially in light of the current discussions about universal healthcare and birth control. The extreme racism and classism of the eugenics movement, and how it was intimat ...more
Apr 17, 2011 Cindy rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, medical
Somewhat interesting. I skipped the middle part as it dragged but read the end chapters on the pill and I.U.D.'s as the former has affected my entire adult life.

I loved the final paragraph of the book which illustrates that insurance companies are biased against women:
Nothing illustrates this claim more than "the willingness of insurance companies to cover the expensive new anti-impotence drug Viagra (which currently costs $10/pill) but not reversible contraceptives such as the pill. Apparently
Feb 08, 2015 Jimmy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
excellent history of the appeal, politics and manufacture of birth control devices
Mary Ellen
Jan 11, 2015 Mary Ellen rated it it was amazing
Excellent research and interesting history!
Jul 29, 2014 Weckiai rated it it was amazing
Anna Smithberger
Sep 16, 2014 Anna Smithberger rated it liked it
I admit, I skimmed a lot while reading this. It's interesting info, but a little too academic for my headspace right now.
Oct 20, 2010 Pia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: feminism
The history of American contraceptive methods is twisted and brutal. This is a really informative and well-written account of things that most people rarely think about today. This was the book where I first read about the Lysol douche and the Dalkon Shield. ::shudder::
Aug 17, 2008 Ram rated it really liked it
A very engaging, if not exactly "engaged," read. Mainly focused -- perhaps to a fault -- on Comstock, Tone provides a nice starting point for any discussion of sexual practices and mores one might care to have in an historical sense. I enjoyed it; I may never read it again.
Nov 01, 2013 Kathy rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-later, research
Read the section on the 19th century, what I needed for my research. Will go back to the 20th century section later. Lots and lots of good info, much of it pulled from archival primary sources, not easy to access. Fascinating stuff!
Apr 07, 2011 Flora rated it it was amazing
From Lysol to the Comstock laws, the history of birth control in America is fascinating and often unexpected. It's good to understand what really happened, and to appreciate our current moment of reproductive freedom.
Dennis Ross
Mar 05, 2013 Dennis Ross rated it it was amazing
I learned so much from this book. It is an excellent history, filled with quotable stories and great information. I return to it often. Great resource for preparing to speak on the topic.
Mar 12, 2008 Sue rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I read this when it was assigned for a class (History of Sexuality), and its an interesting read. The book starts with the Comstock Law (1870s) and ends in the 1990s.
Jan 07, 2008 Erica rated it really liked it
Shelves: nerdy-nonfiction
Did you know that Lysol used to be marketed as a contraceptive douche? Does that fact fascinate you on about five different levels? If so, read this book.
Nov 30, 2010 Maia rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
One of the most thorough and fascinating accounts of contraceptive, deceptively simple on some levels and always refreshingly on target.
Jun 27, 2010 Simone rated it liked it
Very thorough history of birth control in the US -- an important book for all to read.
Oct 01, 2014 Jen rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The comstock portion is pretty hard to get through at first.
Feb 14, 2008 Bekka rated it liked it
slow read, amazingly detailed historical context
Oct 04, 2010 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Really fascinating.
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