Advanced Search
MyIDEAS: Login

Manly rights and manly duties. Sexuality and birth control in Flanders 1900-1940

Contents:

Author Info

  • Isabelle Devos

    ()

  • Christa Matthys

    (Department of History, Ghent University)

Registered author(s):

    Abstract

    During the first half of the twentieth century, discourses on distinct gendered sexual experiences were particularly powerful. Sexual lust was considered an invincible element of manly nature. Women had to channel this desire into permissible behavior: while they should not stimulate lust outside marriage, they were subjected to giving in to the manly rights within marriage. This encompasses a more general ideal of men as sexually active and women as passive recipients. In contrast, when it comes to the use of birth control, it is often assumed that women were the ones who took the initiative because the burden of large families weighed heavier on them. Before the existence of modern contraception however, women depended on the cooperation of their husbands since the most common ways to control fertility were temporary abstinence and coitus interruptus. In this perspective, family limitation occurs when women were in a position strong enough to convince the men. In Flanders, fertility levels dropped from about 1900. This creates an interesting paradox: at the moment when the emphasis on female sexual obedience was at its strongest, women’s negotiation power in the bed seems to have increased enormously. The answer to this apparent inconsistency may be found in a shift of focus from merely the content of the prevailing sexual ideologies to the way they were instructed to and experienced by common people. To this end, this paper analyses (1) how dominant discourses about sexuality were shaped into practical pedagogical literature for adolescents, (2) testimonies of men and women regarding sexual lust and inhibitions outside and within marriage and (3) their negotiation of the use of birth control methods. We argue that the ideal of male activeness versus female passiveness influenced the sexual practice and family planning of men and women in the first half of the twentieth century. When women were indeed more motivated than their partners to limit the family size, they exploited their passivity by faking sleep or illness. Yet, many couples agreed on family control. This suggests that the preferences of men and women alike had altered during this period. When this was the case, the use of contraceptive practices was considered the man’s duty: he was responsible for using coitus interruptus or purchasing of condoms. This shows that changing perceptions on family limitation were not necessarily linked with more egalitarian sexual experiences.

    Download Info

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
    File URL: http://www.eed.ugent.be/RePEc/workingpapers/2012-2.pdf
    File Function: First version, 2010
    Download Restriction: no

    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by EED research unit, department of History, Ghent University in its series EED-Working Papers with number 2.

    as in new window
    Length: 16 pages
    Date of creation: Oct 2012
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:ghe:wpaper:2

    Contact details of provider:
    Web page: http://www.eed.ugent.be

    Related research

    Keywords:

    Find related papers by JEL classification:

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    References

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    Citations

    Lists

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ghe:wpaper:2. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Nicolas De Vijlder).

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.