‘Counting the Days’ for Family Planning: Not Recommended for Spontaneous Lovers, but Helpful for Couples Having Difficulty Conceiving.
Austrian Gynecologist Hermann Knaus Passed Away 40 Years Ago
It is well known that passion presents an obstacle to human thought, and there were a large number of unplanned pregnancies, mockingly termed ‘Knaus kids’, in the 1950s and 1960s. Women are unable to conceive only 14 days each month, and the rest of the time they must abstain from sex when employing the rhythm method of contraception. Similarly to condoms, uncertainty never involves technical failure of the method itself, but the behavior of the individuals who use it.
Knaus presented his observations of what he termed the safe and unsafe days in 1929, nearly at the same time as Japanese gynecologist Kyusaku Ogino, who came to similar conclusions independently. For that reason it is now called the Knaus-Ogino method. Absolutely essential for its effectiveness are a schedule of the woman’s menstruation, which must be kept for at least one year beforehand, and a stable menstrual cycle without a great deal of fluctuation. In a 1966 interview Knaus responded to the accusation that his method resulted in a ‘mechanization of the emotions’: “On the contrary,” he stated, “periodical and planned abstinence increases the joys of wedded life and raises the level of mutual desire.”
Knaus’ method is a natural form of controlling conception through the menstrual cycle, and this makes it equally suitable for preventing conception or enhancing a couple’s chances. He described it as the “conscious use of fertile and infertile days in the menstrual cycle (for conceiving offspring or preventing an unwanted pregnancy) that makes artificial means of contraception unnecessary.”
“I want to have a child, Dr. Knaus!”
For this reason many desperate patients sought him out, some after several years of childless marriage. He asked them to make precise records of their periods, prescribing lovemaking on the ‘right’ days. The large number of grateful couples increased his reputation and helped make him a prominent doctor.
Knaus was extremely sceptical of the next step, using artificial insemination to help couples unable to conceive. At the same time, the effectiveness of this new discipline was to a great extent due to Knaus’ calculations of the “optimum conception period,” in other words the days on which getting pregnant was most likely: “Since, in light of the studies I presented in 1929, a woman with normal fertility can conceive on solely a few days of each monthly cycle, choosing the point in time is critical for artificial insemination’s success. Only when this is done immediately before or on the day of ovulation can success be expected” (Revue 29, July 1955).
Hermann Knaus was a devout Catholic, and the approval of his method by Pope Pius XII on October 29, 1951, represented the greatest possible honor. The Knaus-Ogino method is still the only form of contraception tolerated by the Catholic Church.
A voice against the pill
In accordance with his religious and moral views, Knaus rejected the pill, which was introduced in the 1960s: “I would hope that it is prescribed solely to mature women when there are no ethical complications involved. The pill has become fashionable.”
From a doctor’s point of view he had this to say regarding the large amount of hormones it involved at the time: “Fourteen-year-olds are taking the pill. I have reservations about that.” (Kärntner Zeitung, September 28, 1968)
His former assistent Heinz Braitenberg-Zenoberg wrote the following after Knaus’ death: “In the past few years, in which more and more gynecologists have prescribed the ‘pill’ and many respectable and an even greater number of less respectable papers have reported on and praised it, Knaus was one of its first opponents. The current Pope asked Knaus for his expert opinion [...] and there is no doubt that he played a role in its rejection [by the Church].”
Knaus passed away in Graz on August 20, 1970, and was buried in his hometown, St. Veit an der Glan.
More information about Hermann Knaus’ life and work can be found in our extensive scientific Knaus archive at http://en.muvs.org/museum/newsletter/39, or you can download the brochure ‘Hermann Knaus – In Search of the Fertile Days’: http://muvs.org/museum/presse/presse_knaus_engl.pdf.
Museum for Contraception and Abortion (MUVS), Mariahilfer Guertel 37, 1150 Vienna, open Wednesday to Sunday, 2 to 6 p.m., and at www.muvs.org