Essure-thetics: “What mark will you leave? None.”

Anyone remember “What Cheeses Me Off” on Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday?


Hrm. Nevermind. (This homophobic crapola was about the usual level of it. Largely linked here for the spunky 80s fashion choices of Daryl Somers.)

Anyhow. What cheeses me off today is this advertising for the Essure tubal occlusion system, an alternative to laparoscopic tubal ligation for female sterilisation. The Essure procedure is performed via hysteroscopy, meaning that it can be done without the health risks of a general anaesthetic and laparoscopy.

Click on the “For Healthcare Professionals” tab, and you see a Flash intro with what Conceptus thinks is the hot way to sell their product to surgeons:





The headline reads, “What mark will you leave on female sterilization?

An image appears at the leftmost side: a thin, taut, young, light-skinned, hairless woman’s abdomen is pictured, from lower ribcage to groins, with a dotted line across her pubic area (representing the “bikini” incision that might be use in an open tubal ligation).

An image appears in the middle: a thin, taut, young, light-skinned, hairless woman’s abdomen from lower ribcage to groins, with two smaller dotted lines just above the pubis and below the umbilicus: the types of incisions that might be used at a laparoscopic sterilisation.

A third abdomen appears, perhaps thinner and tauter and still smooth, bald and pale, this time with no dotted lines. A caption reads, “None.”

It’s all about aesthetics. The risks of general anaesthesia, the risks of laparoscopy (intestinal perforation, bladder injury, burns, deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, postoperative shoulder pain, intraperitoneal or wound infection, haemorrhage) – these are relegated to the fine print. Effectiveness is an afterthought. Because the women are invisible. They are headless, faceless abdomens, not whole people.

What Conceptus wants to stick in these surgeons’ minds is the fact that they will not leave a mark.

Because the worst possible thing you could do to that hypothetical svelte, waxed abdomen would not be to damage the person behind it, but to make it no longer acceptable for mainstream lingerie advertising duty.

And, because there’s always a twist: most of the surgeons in the target group would probably refuse Essure to any woman who looked like this advertisements. “Because you’re too young to make such a big decision, dear.”


[1] There are downsides, too: like the fact that a followup hysterosalpingogram (X-ray dye test) must be done three months later to confirm tubal occlusion before contraception is considered in force; the spring-like implants contain nickel; some women get persistent pelvic pain, or pelvic infection; there is no way to remove them once they have grown into place, short of quite major surgery; and there is no knowledge of what happens if an accidental pregnancy occurs after the procedure. Essure is a useful expansion of the available tools and is suitable for some women, but isn’t the magical perfect contraception we’ve all been waiting for.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, health, medicine

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22 replies

  1. Another thing about their assumptions is that the scar from laparoscopic surgery will even show up at all. I had a laparoscopic tubal ligation done when I was 25 (and single with one child and 4 pregnancies behind me when using other birth control methods). I had to fight to get it done. But, one incision at my navel, and even 30 years later, the scar can’t be found. So if they think those scars are disfiguring, they’re sadly mistaken (and even if mine was visible, I would consider it a battle scar, and be proud to own it as my own). This obsession with perfect bodies has got to stop, it’s causing no small amount of damage to women who can’t meet it (and shouldn’t have to, WTF is wrong with diversity in bodies?).

  2. I’m quite fond of my little + shaped scar in my belly button. I’d be surprised if anyone ever noticed it, should I ever wear a bikini.

  3. And my private bugbear … sterilization is NOT = contraception.
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..Peace in our time? [aka Moral Equivalence 102]

  4. No?

    Yes. Thank you Lauredhel, you’ve made me feel very old today.

  5. Mind blowing ad – must ever single aspect of women and womens’ lives be sexualised? Yes, apparently.

  6. Hrmmm. The scarring factor of any potential surgery is a huge consideration for me for two reasons: as a sex worker the appearance of my body is directly related to my income, and as an Indigenous woman I’m predisposed to hypertrophic and keloid scarring. A scar across my abdomen may well end up several times bigger than the original incision, and is likely to end up thick and hard enough to be painful or at least inconvenient.
    Of course, the use of young thin white women with no heads is still problematic, but I can understand the emphasising of the no-scarring. It’s a really important factor for some of us, and not just because we’re told we must remain unscarred and youthful looking.
    hexy’s last blog post..When the bullshit gets so deep you can’t help but sink. Or: Fuck you, buggle.

  7. Hexy: I hear what you’re saying, and I agree that scarring is a consideration for some women when making healthcare decisions. This is marketing to surgeons, not women, and it’s the whole picture that I’m pissed off about. Had they had a pictorial essay on all the risks/differences, and scarring was one of them – I doubt I’d be writing this. Had they used a more realistic illustration of scarring (say, a keloid-prone average sort of woman with a real actual scar) – again, I doubt I’d be writing this. Instead, they are playing to the fantasies of male surgeons – a sort of “leave nothing behind, not even your footprints” reverie with more than a tinge of sexual spice, on these idealised soft-focus mannequin-like torsos.

  8. And my private bugbear … sterilization is NOT = contraception.

    Yes, it is. A method to prevent pregnancy resulting from sexual intercourse. What bugs your bear about it?

  9. I actually missed the bit where it was being marketed to surgeons!
    hexy’s last blog post..When the bullshit gets so deep you can’t help but sink. Or: Fuck you, buggle.

  10. Interesting and of course just typical. Makes me wonder how it was marketed to surgeons here in the States–I know the marketing to the public was much more ‘soccer mom, wants control of her fertility, husband’s a dick and won’t get the snip’.

  11. Bene: Clicking “US” and “Healthcare Professionals” takes me to It focuses much more on the technical aspects of the procedure and equipment. (I could do without the Physician and Patient Testimonials, however.)
    I can’t find a site aimed at Australian healthcare professionals; the website marketing to the Australian public is dominated by offers to dial a 1800 number to “talk a registered nurse to get more information on Essure”.

  12. The way caesar rates are going there will be no need for this product. Most women will already have a scar, so opening that one again won’t be an issue for a ligation. In the unlikely event that I ever have another caesar I will ask if they can tie my tubes at the same time, since they are there and all.

  13. Lauredhel–Just went and looked in a cursory way between the UK and US professional sites, and you’re right, the difference is striking. I thought it might be that the procedure was approved earlier by the FDA as compared to EU authorities, but the data I find says that it was done so at about the same time in ’02.
    I have no insight into what this might mean, though.

  14. ”And my private bugbear … sterilization is NOT = contraception.”
    Yes, it is. A method to prevent pregnancy resulting from sexual intercourse. What bugs your bear about it?

    The permanence. I draw a distinction between reversible methods of pregnancy prevention and permanent ones, “first, do no harm” and all that…
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..Only buses should be bendy

  15. I draw a distinction between reversible methods of pregnancy prevention and permanent ones

    Draw away, but the distinction is nothing new. However, reversible methods of contraception and permanent methods of contraception are both methods of contraception.
    I’ve no idea what you’re getting at with the “first, do no harm” connection.

  16. It’s the elimination of choice that worries me. Yes nowadays it’s usually an informed judgement of a woman herself (who often has to fight a consultant to get it done if she’s younger) but historically that’s not always been the case. I’m doing a lot of reading about Disability in Nazi Germany just at the moment but enforced sterilisation on the grounds of ‘mental insufficiency’ has been raising consent issues in the USA since the Eugenics movement began right up until the present day, and the Swedes were institutionalising and sterilising their ‘anti-socials’ (read Gypsies) up until the 1970s. Denial of choice is a harm.
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..‘Work for benefits’ rolled out early

  17. DEM, I don’t disagree with any of your caveats about sterilisation, but I’m with Lauredhel – permanent contraception is still contraception. Get your bear bugged by the “permanent”, not the “contraception”.

  18. Well I did say it was a personal bug bear…
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..Obama: Road to the Whitehouse

  19. I don’t see a “harm” in permanent contraception for a woman who wants it. I’ve spent 16 years on hormonal birth control because I was “too young” to decide I didn’t want kids, despite the fact that I first declared I wasn’t having children at age 8 and haven’t changed my mind since.

  20. I get that you say it’s a “personal bug bear”, DEM; however, you didn’t express an opinion about reproductive justice in your bugbear comment, you just stated something that’s false: “Sterilisation is NOT contraception”. It is contraception, and I don’t understand why you felt the need to try to correct me on that.

  21. Just received a direct mailer for my 18 year old daughter for Essure – the cover was a happy couple in a park – young and attractive, of course – the heading – “Stop worrying about unplanned pregnancy and start enjoying every moment of your life”. Unbelievable. Well, I guess the tobacco and alcohol companies misrepresent their products to our youth. Why not this one too?


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