chapter  Chapter 7
18 Pages

Contraception, Marriage, and Sexual Relations in the Christian West

WithJean-Louis Flandrin

Coitus interruptus, or onanism, the chief means of contraception in the modern period, attracted little attention. An American scholar, John Noonan, has shown the importance of medieval condemnations against contraception in its many forms. The most radical thesis was that of "unthinkableness" so brilliantly defended by Philippe Aries which asserted that, until a recent date, contraception was unthinkable in the Christian West and that love, sexual intercourse, and procreation formed an integral whole. Even when St Thomas Aquinas rehabilitated the notion of pleasure resulting from the marriage act, he firmly maintained that pleasure in the act should be condemned as an end. If the majority of demographic historians have kept a cautious and ambiguous silence concerning the fertility of extramarital sexual relations, others have not hesitated to determine the frequency of such relationships on the basis of the number of illegitimate births.