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Fatal Secrets and the French Fertility Transition

Etienne van de Walle and Helmut V. Muhsam
Population and Development Review
Vol. 21, No. 2 (Jun., 1995), pp. 261-279
Published by: Population Council
DOI: 10.2307/2137494
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2137494
Page Count: 19
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Fatal Secrets and the French Fertility Transition
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Abstract

Sixteenth- to eighteenth-century literary descriptions of French contraceptive behavior are examined for what they tell us about the means through which that country's fertility decline was achieved. A well-known 1778 text by Moheau on "fatal secrets," and strikingly similar texts from the period, shed little light on the subject. Unambiguous evidence comes from libertine writers who address extramarital situations. They point to a variety of techniques, including mutual masturbation, sodomy, and coitus interruptus. The last does not seem to be the preferred contraceptive method out of wedlock. Withdrawal is usually presented as a learned technique rather than as one that can be reinvented by every couple, and it is reputedly unreliable. Few sources document the spread of withdrawal to marital situations.

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