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On fatal chemistry and sexed human boundaries: Negotiating steroid risks in high-performance sport in Finland (1950-1976)

Sari Irni


In this paper, I politicize the understanding of “risky steroids” in relation to Finnish high-performance sport in the period between 1950 and the mid-1970s. I combine a material feminist acknowledgement of the action of steroids, activities surrounding steroid use, and the questioning of fixed ontology with an understanding of politics as a politicization of that ontology. I suggest that complex genderings were involved in the process by which, in the mid-1970s, anabolic steroids were deemed to be extremely risky to the health of athletes, while simultaneously, women’s use of other steroids in the form of contraceptives was widely approved. Utilizing Finnish archive and published material, such as medical and sports journals and newspapers, I argue that the problems with anabolic steroids were centered, not only on their health risks or questionable performance enhancement properties, but also on their sex-transforming and other physical effects that blurred the very boundaries of the term “human.” Therefore, accounts of steroid risks were not simply scientific, objective accounts of their health risks. Rather, the risks associated with anabolic steroid use amounted to a “political object” that facilitated a “coming to terms” with the problem of transforming bodies themselves.


anabolic steroids; contraceptives; gender; hormones; sex, sport; steroids

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