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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.

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Table of Contents

  • Contents
  • Foreword XX
  • Introduction XX

  • Ars erotica: the early arts of birth control XX
  • The Economics of Sexual Reproduction: birth control in the ancient world? XX - Calls for greater Fertility: origins of the reproduction ethic in Judaism, Christianity and Islam XX - The not so secret Lore of Ancient Medicine XX - Poetic Truth: deliberate infertility as a theme in ancient literature XX - Unfruitful Activities: “suppositories for women” and herbal potions XX
  • Transformations: the supposed repression of birth control knowledge in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times XX
  • A History of Demographics and the Origins of Birth Control XX - Secreta mulierum: female lore on pregnancy and birth control XXX - Sexual Desire and Atonement: a theology of “the sinful flesh” XXX - Castration, Condoms, Casanovas: techniques of birth control old and new XXX
  • The Commencement of scientia sexualis in the 19th century: the effects of moral and political imperatives on the discourse on birth control XXX
  • (Neo-) Malthusianism and its Implications for Demographics XXX - A fresh approach to knowledge: educational sex brochures and their readers XXX - Sexual politics: intensified control and its counter resistance XXX - The practice of “being careful” - between tradition and progress XXX
  • A Day to Day Regime: the “democratisation” of birth control in the 20th century
  • A Promise of Deliverance: the “nationalisation” of birth control: enforced sterilisation and national birth control programmes XXX - Sexual Morality in Transition and the waning Influence of Religion XXX - synchronicity and the asynchronous: birth control techniques old and new XXX
  • Future Prospects
  • “A contraceptive Pill for men” - the contraceptive of the future XXX
  • Notes XXX - Bibliography XXX
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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.

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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.
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"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

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