Contraception: A History
May 2008, Polity
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.
List of illustrations vii
Illustration acknowledgements viii
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
Translated by Vicky Russell.
- 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
- Fully Illustrated with black and white halftones and line drawings.
"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
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