Sex and Herbs and Birth Control: Women and Fertility Regulation Through the Ages

Ann Hibner Koblitz. Kovalevskaia Fund, $19.95 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-0-9896655-0-6
In this fearlessly female-centric survey of women's reproduction options, Arizona State University gender studies professor Koblitz revives long-abandoned techniques and critiques modern approaches. Going back to ancient times, she notes that herbs like acacia, parsley, mint, and juniper were commonly used for birth control purposes, and mallow root aided in the abortion process. Barrier methods ranged from rag tampons, nettle leaves, and sea tangle sponges to Native American diaphragms made out of birch bark. "The historical record," Koblitz writes, "shows that women... were capable of great ingenuity in their efforts to safely control their fertility." But with the rise of professional medicine, "all folk beliefs [were] bundled together... as primitive" and "scholars [were] discouraged from studying them seriously." Koblitz's survey also sheds light on the peculiar history of forensics used to detect illegal abortions and the use of the "dying declaration" on victims of botched abortions. Birth control experts and its politics, she points out, have often been "illogical, even incoherent," even though "most women in most countries and most historical periods" found a wide range of ways to control their reproductive destiny. Koblitz delivers a persuasive argument for allowing ancient wisdom to provide modern-day guidance. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/14/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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