Birth is a universal experience for humanity and therefore, so is conception. This makes the issue of contraception one which stretched back into antiquity. While this topic is frequently in modern news, the historic practices of contraception and the specific methods utilized are rarely touched upon. This leads to the question of what exactly people were doing to prevent unwanted pregnancies. In looking specifically at medieval Europe it is possible to gain an understanding of just how wide a range of methods (both practical and unlikely to work) was available to the common woman.
The Roman Catholic Church was outspoken in the writing of clerics as to the sin of contraception, frequently pointing to the biblical story of Onan, son of Jonah, who withdrew and spilled his seed on the ground rather than impregnate his dead brother’s wife as an example. A Papal Bull from the fifteenth century reinforced that abortion was not within the realm of practices permitted by the church, as crimes connected to witchcraft were described, including, “have slain infants yet in the mother’s womb” and continues on to include causing sterilization within men and women. Alternatively, older Jewish, Roman and Greek texts all mentioned methods of contraception and gave either blatant or tactic approvals to carry out these actions. Medical knowledge spreading from contact with Islamic kingdoms also brought with it contraceptive knowledge, as the practice was permitted under both Shiite and Sunni law. Specifically, the practice of coitus interruptus was encourage provided the man had the knowledge and consent of the woman ahead of time.
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