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I was reading a reread blog covering the Vorkosigan books. They were discussing some secretive biases and prejudice in Betan society that prevent the people who aren't Cordelia from understanding Vor society and I was suddenly reminded of this conversation on the Miles to Go forum about whether the fact that the contraceptive implants were limited to women and herms was secretly sexist. Unfortunately, the forums require registration, and the discussion is a bit longwinded, so I don't really feel up to posting all of the excerpts, but the main discussion gets into how it's stated several times in the books that, in Betan society, the women and hermaphrodites are the only ones mentioned getting the contraceptive implants. Men, as with our current society, are apparently largely exempt from being responsible for any form of contraception short of a physical barrier or avoiding sex. As with many such discussions, it got a bit charged, and I know that we're probably bringing in our own biases, but it seemed like we came down to two theories.

It's a matter of authors writing what they know

The first book in the series was written nearly 30 years ago. Society has long emphasized women as the ones responsible for avoiding pregnancy, as they're the ones who'll have to deal with it while the man can always skip town. Even today, in 2014, there really does not exist a reliable form of male contraception that is reversible without surgical intravention. One would expect a futuristic society that can grow children in uterine replicators, clone organs, and even entirely reverse someone's sex to have overcome such barriers, but it's possible that it really is a more difficult problem than we give it credence. Either way, it might have just never been conceivable to Mrs. Bujold that male contraception would become that easy.

There is an ugly bias at the bottom of Betan egalitarianism

Another possibility, and not even one that's all that unlikely to me, is that the Betan society harbors their own biases which they paper over with their self-image of being an entirely egalitarian society. There's a quote I've run into that first-world countries that they have a tendency to claim to be completely open-minded, but tend to automatically force any person they interact with to conform to their cultural norms. We have hints in A Civil Campaign that the Betan Colony has its ugly underside as per Is Beta Colony less democratic than it seems?.


Ultimately, this may not be something that can be answered definitively, unless Mrs. Bujold plans to address it in later books, but I am curious if anyone has seen better evidence within the books of how this is handled.

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    "Men, as with our current society, are apparently largely exempt from being responsible for any form of contraception." Are you forgetting the most obvious and ubiquitous form of contraception? I'm sure you're aware of a male-used device that has an effectiveness matched only in female contraception by implanted devices. – Gorchestopher H Jun 19 '14 at 15:03
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    :) Did you miss the rest of the sentence, "short of a physical barrier or avoiding sex"? Although, I realize that I forgot to include the words, "reversible" in there. Yes, vasectomies work very well, but they're pretty permanent. – FuzzyBoots Jun 19 '14 at 15:09
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    I suppose my point is that in our society, there exists significant onus on men to employ contraceptive devices, as they are most easily employed by men. The fact that invasive non-permanent methods were developed for women and not men is not driven by sexism, but rather anatomy. – Gorchestopher H Jun 19 '14 at 16:05
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    Sex is the natural subject to be sexist about. – Oldcat Jun 19 '14 at 17:08
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    No time to write a full answer, but I'll note that the invention of the birth control pill was probably the main thing that made it even remotely possible for women to "play" equally with men in the sexual arena. Yes, it affects women more than men, but then so does pregnancy. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that the difference between the sexes on Beta is biological, not cultural. – Martha Jun 19 '14 at 17:13
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There is a very simple reason why males in Betan (or any other) society don't have contraceptive implants and that is because they cannot conceive. There is a very big difference between birth control in general and a contraceptive implant which stops sperm from fertilizing ova. There's no point in having (and no way to do it) such an implant unless your body is carrying eggs that can be fertilized.

Now, this is not to say that men in any society don't have equal responsibilities with respect to birth control. Of course they do. However, it is true that in mammals (or mammal-like) species, it is the female who carries the eggs and the female who gestates the embryo. While males, at least theoretically, have the option of walking away from their developing offspring as soon as the fun bit is over, females do not. It is therefore even more important for females than for males to control their own bodies and protect themselves against unwanted fertilization. By extension, it seems reasonable that the social norm is that women have the implant. Not because it's a sexist society but because it's the women who will have to bear the brunt of the burden, uterine replicators notwithstanding.

In addition, no matter how advanced your technology is, invasive procedures should always be kept at a minimum. There is no reason to have the entire population reversibly sterilized, you only need to do it to one of the two groups (either the sperm or the egg bearers). It makes perfect medical sense to avoid any and all operations unless absolutely necessary. Therefore, Betan society had to choose whether to "sterilize" females or males (herms would get it either way since they carry both sets of apparatus). Since a pregnancy is a much bigger deal to the person in whose body it is actually taking place, it is reasonable to choose that part of the population that has the most to gain by controlling their reproduction: those who actually carry the fetus.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, sex is not the only way that sperm can be delivered. By ensuring that all who carry a womb also have the implant, other forms of impregnation (forced insemination for example) are also protected against. If it were the males who'd had an equivalent implant, the females could be force impregnated by other means, opening the door to all sorts of horrible crimes. To make a rather mundane analogy, if I want to make sure that no balls enter my hoop, I'd block the hoop, not try and confiscate all balls on campus.

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    To further your point, if you want to control births within a colony, you need to ensure that those capable of being impregnated are not impregnated. One unprotected male (visitor perhaps) can theoretically impregnate all unprotected women. But a single unprotected woman only allows for one pregnancy. – Gorchestopher H Jun 19 '14 at 16:11
  • @GorchestopherH exactly. That's the point I was making in my last paragraph. – terdon Jun 19 '14 at 16:16
  • It's not entirely clear whether conception needs to happen in the womb: certainly by the time Miles & Ekaterin "start" their twins, it happens entirely in the lab - the embryos go straight from the test tube/petri dish to the uterine replicator. Yes, that's a good 40 years after our introduction to Beta colony, but on the other hand, it's on Barrayar, which is still a bit behind the technology curve. – Martha Jun 19 '14 at 16:46
  • @Martha true, but I don't see how it's relevant. Contraception only applies to the traditional method. The betan implant does not stop the bearer from fertilizing their ova in vitro, its use is strictly in vivo. – terdon Jun 19 '14 at 16:50
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    The new book, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, confirms my explanation of how uterine replicators work. Basically, for women there's no sex involved whatsoever, and for men, there's sex only insofar as you can label "giving a semen sample" as "sex". – Martha Feb 8 '16 at 23:51
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I agree with Terdon's statement and it's logic, i would have said the same as part of my answer if not beaten too it. I just wanted to point out another possible explination.

If you look at this from a meta-level at the time the first books were written IUDs existed and worked, but there as no known way to give men an implanted birth control. Thus it makes sense that the author wrote the Beta Colony using the birth control she knew existed but didn't think to write about a form of birth control that at the time didn't exist. This is no more surprising then the fact that the Vorkosigan Saga has a significant lack of wireless technology because the first world building was done before the previlance of wireless devices.

It's not unreasonable for this logic to actually apply in-universe as well. From a medical viewpoint It is far harder to prevent viable sperm from being produced then it is to prevent conception and implantation of embryos since the later is a vastly more complex process reliant on numerous hormonal triggers of which only one must be stopped to prevent conception. This is why female implanted birth control existed long before we finally came up with a male version, and why the male version is both less effective at preventing conception and has more severe side effects then the female version today.

We can be confident that both implantaiton options available to Beta colony surpase the current options. The degree of side effects, and limited effectivness, of current IUD technology simply wouldn't be sufficent for the sort of mandatory contreception of beta colony. However, it's quite likely that the female contreceptive implant would still outpace the male equivlent in effectivness and severity of side effects since it's still the easier medical challenge. When it came time to mandate at least one side getting implants it would make sense to pick the sex that could use the most effective form of contreceptive, in this case female. It may very well be that male contreceptives equivlent was more invasive or still had side effects severe enough that mandating them on males was deemed unjustified compared to the more viable female implant.

Of course this all assumes that males didn't get some form of birth control implants. Sure we only hear about female implants, but the topic only comes up at times when it affects women. We can't rule out the possibility that males do have implants and it's just never been brought up.

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