The University of Wisconsin Press

Science Education / Theater & Drama / Health & Medicine


Sex in an Age of Technological Reproduction
ICSI and Taboos
Carl Djerassi

“As these two plays demonstrate, [Carl Djerassi] has developed a form of drama on scientific themes that is as entertaining as it is instructive.”
—David Lodge, author of The Year of Henry James and Author, Author

Carl Djerassi is one of the “the fathers of the Pill”—he was awarded the National Medal of Science for the first synthesis of a steroid oral contraceptive—and has had a prolific additional career as a writer of fiction, plays, and dialogues about science. In these two plays, ICSI and Taboos, he dramatizes the social transformations and contested viewpoints created by advances in reproductive science and technology.

Two of the most startling developments in contemporary science have radically disrupted the historical connection between sex and reproduction: in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)—an assisted reproductive technique that directly injects a single sperm into an egg. The word play ICSI—designed for classroom readings—presents, in the format of a contentious talk-show dialogue, the science of direct-injection fertilization and the ethical issues connected with it. A DVD included in the book provides video of the ICSI injection process as viewed through a microscope, to be used in performances of the ICSI one-act dialogue. Taboos, a full-length play, turns the screws on characters that reflect a polarized America. Two couples—lesbian partners and a conservative husband and wife struggling with infertility—must make choices in a drama that examines the disjunction of sexual reproduction and the physical act of sex.

“Carl Djerassi is in a unique position to dramatize . . . the ethical dimensions of the new technologies of reproduction. In addition, his clarity as a writer, and his sense of serious mischief as an agent provocateur, make these plays as compelling on the page as they are challenging on the stage.”
—Elaine Showalter, Princeton University, author of Sexual Anarchy

The North American premiere of Taboos opened at New York’s Soho Playhouse on September 19, 2008.

Carl Djerassi (1923–2015) was the author of many novels, plays, essays, poetry, and short stories published in twenty languages. Renowned as both a writer and a scientist, he was an emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford University and the recipient of thirty honorary doctorates as well as many international scientific honors. His books published by the University of Wisconsin Press are: How I Beat Coca-Cola and Other Tales of One-Upmanship; Foreplay: Hannah Arendt, the Two Adornos, and Walter Benjamin; Sex in an Age of Technological Reproduction: “ICSI” and “Taboos”; and A Diary of Pique 1983–1984 / Ein Tagebuch des Grolls 1983–1984.

Please see this obituary published in the New York Times.

For more information about the author and his other works, visit

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Sex in an Age of Technological Reproduction

September 2008

LC: 2008010993 PS
136 pp.,
6 x 9
8 b/w illus., includes DVD

Book icon
Paper $24.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-22794-4
Book icon Cloth $50.00 s
ISBN 978-0-299-22790-6
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