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To be or not to be pregnant - that is the medieval question

Monday, October 28, 2019 - 07:00

I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt when I skip over chapters of books, or articles in collections, with the commen "not relevant to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project." I shouldn't feel that way. The entire project is an exercise in highly subjective filtering of content for what interests me personally. Sometimes chapters or articles aren't relevant to the Project but I find them fascinating enough to write them up anyway. And yet, I twinge.

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Cadden, Joan. 1993. Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-48378-6

Chapter 5: Sterility

The concepts and theories around in/fertility have shifted over the centuries much as those around sex/gender. Medieval authors were highly preoccupied with childbearing and anything that helped or impeded it. The expression of this concern was closely connected to theories of reproduction. Medieval treatments for infertility followed from the varied theoretical understandings of the process of conception and gestation.

Procreation was not only an individual concern but a familial one, as social ties, economic strength, and other consequences depended on the production of children. Surplus children presented a different set of difficulties so despite official disapproval of contraception, knowledge about how to avoid pregnancy was also desired.

Sterility might, in an individual instance, be considered an innate property or a fixable condition. The question of the female role in conception affected understandings and treatment of infertility.

But the topic of this chapter is largely outside the scope of the LHMP so I’m skipping a detailed summary of the rest.

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