Print this page Share

Contraception: A History

ISBN: 978-0-7456-3270-4
288 pages
May 2008, Polity
Contraception: A History (074563270X) cover image


Contraception is not an invention of modern times, nor is it a purely personal matter. Social institutions such as the church and the state have exerted their influence as effectively as doctors, population theorists, and the early pioneers of the feminist movement. All of these claim a special expertise in matters of ethics and morality, and so have shaped the discourses on and practices of birth control over the centuries.

In this engaging new book Robert Jütte offers a history of contraception from the Ancient world to the present day. He distinguishes two broad phases: first, a long phase, extending from the Ancient world up to the 18th century, in which birth control was part of a traditional form of sexual knowledge what Jütte calls, following the French social philosopher Michel Foucault, the ars erotica. In the second phase, which began in the 19th century, practices of birth control are increasingly shaped by the emerging models of scientific knowledge, while still retaining some vestiges of the erotic arts.

In addition to the contraceptives we know and use today, from coitus interruptus to the condom and the pill, Jütte considers other methods of birth control as diverse as the use of herbal potions and vaginal pessaries, the castration of young boys and the enforced sterilization of men and women. This comprehensive history of one of the oldest and most widespread of human practices offers a rich and nuanced account of how men and women across the centuries have struggled with the needs both for sexual gratification and for limitation of offspring, while also looking beyond the present to catch a glimpse of how contraception might evolve in the future.

See More

Table of Contents

List of illustrations vii

Illustration acknowledgements viii

Foreword ix

Introduction 1

Ars erotica: The Early Art of Contraception 11

The economics of sexual reproduction: birth control in the ancient world? 11

Calls for greater fertility: origin of the ethics of procreation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam 17

The not so secret wisdom of ancient medicine 29

Poetic truth: deliberate infertility as a theme in ancient literature 37

Unfruitful activities: 'suppositories for women' and herbal potions 42

Transformations: The Supposed Repression of Knowledge about Contraception in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times 51

A history of demographics and the origins of birth control 51

Secreta mulierum: female wisdom on pregnancy and contraception 62

Sexual desire and atonement: the theology of the 'sinful flesh' 75

Castration, condoms, Casanovas: old and new methods of contraception 89

The Beginnings of scientia sexualis in the Nineteenth Century: The Impact of Moral and Political Imperatives on the Debate about Contraception 106

(Neo-)Malthusianism and its demographical implications 106

A fresh approach to knowledge: sex education pamphlets and theirreaders 117

Sexual politics: intensified control and resistance to it 139

The practice of 'being careful': between tradition and progress 144

An Everyday Regime: The 'Democratization' of Birth Control in the Twentieth Century 157

The promise of deliverance: contraception as emancipation 157

The 'Nationalization' of contraception: enforced sterilization and national birth control programmes 174

Changes in sexual morality and the waning influence of religion 186

Simultaneous existence of old and new methods of contraception 199

Future Prospects 216

The 'Pill for men': the contraceptive of the future? 216

Notes 221

Bibliography 237

Index 247

See More

Author Information

Robert Jutte is Head of the Institute of Medicine at the Robert Bosch Foundation and Professor of Modern History at Stuttgart University.

Translated by Vicky Russell.

See More

The Wiley Advantage

  • A History of Contraception is a comprehensive survey of one of the oldest and most widespread of human practices.
  • The book offers a rich and engaging account of the history of contraception from antiquity to the present, as well as making some predictions for its the future evolution.
  • The book contains a detailed overview of debates, theories and practices of contraception across the ages and across the world. It will be of interest to general readers and will be suitable as a textbook.
  • Fully Illustrated with black and white halftones and line drawings.
See More


"What sets Jütte's work apart and makes this volume essential reading on the topic is its fine historiography and analysis of foregoing authors' projects."
The Lancet

"Should prove useful to students and scholars alike."
Times Higher Education

"A fascinating, detailed and well-researched insight into the social, cultural and religious influences that have influenced knowledge, attitudes, acceptance and use of fertility control throughout history."
Family Planning Association newsletter

"A carefully researched survey that will provide useful material for those interested in comparing ideas about contraception in diff erent places and times."
English Historical Review

"Robert Jütte’s extraordinary history of contraception enables us to look in an entirely new way at the claim of the 1960s generation that theirs was the first sexual revolution. The struggle for the control of sexual reproduction from the ancient world through the Middle Ages is as important to Jütte's story as are the rise of sexual science in the nineteenth century and the introduction of the pill in the twentieth. Indeed how 'modern' means exist side by side with 'traditional' means of birth control (some more efficient than others – but which?) haunts this entire history. A readable and fascinating account of woman’s age-old struggle."
Sander Gilman, Emory University

"The publication of an English version of Robert Jütte's Lust ohne Last is greatly to be applauded. This extremely thoughtful and engagingly written study substantially exceeds earlier attempts to set down histories of contraception. Jütte has produced a chronologically wide-ranging cultural history and adopts a Foucauldian framework in which the issues of power and knowledge loom large throughout. As a result it is a work of great interest to social and cultural historians, demographers, historically minded social scientists, and historians of ideas, medicine and science."
Richard Smith, University of Cambridge

See More

Related Titles

Back to Top