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date: 21 April 2024


The Oxford Encyclopedia Women in World History
James W. ReedJames W. Reed, James W. ReedJames W. Reed

This entry consists of two subentries:

Overview and Comparative History


Evidence from antiquity demonstrates that contraception is not a modern invention but a practice deeply embedded in the history of the societies that produced the three world monotheisms. The biblical figure Onan incurred God's wrath by refusing the command to impregnate his brother's widow. He copulated with her but withdrew before ejaculation, spilling his semen on the ground (Genesis 38:9). While Onan represents the ubiquitous efforts by men to control their fertility, women sought female‐controlled methods. Ancient Egyptian papyri describe vaginal contraceptive plugs. Some contained materials with spermicidal properties such as lactic acid; others were intended physically to block the passage of sperm into the uterus. Similar formulas appeared in Greek and Roman texts. In the fourth century, Christian authorities cited Onan's fate in forbidding the separation of coitus from procreation, but their efforts to police sexuality were limited by human rebelliousness and the availability of contraceptive knowledge in popular culture and non‐Christian sources.... ...

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