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Contraception – a history

Originally written in German in 2002, Robert Jütte’s history of contraception has since become a classic reference book . It covers the whole period from ancient times well into the future and makes it clear that the struggle over fertility is not a new one. The book’s 220 pages are rich in histories and details that provide us with an arsenal of facts useful to persist in any discussions one might be drawn into.

As one would expect from this author and topic, Jütte’s book is about social and medical history. What makes it even more valuable is its political approach: control of fertility has been and is a key political issue meaning power. The power to breed as many soldiers as possible, boost the population or at least some so-called desirable members of the population, and also the power to decide on one’s own offspring and determine the future of one’s own family.

Jütte does not avoid aspects of fertility control which we understand as hot.. Chapter 4 is entitled 'The Democratization of Birth Control in the Twentieth Century’. From social hygienist Alfred Grotjahn’s 1926 prophecy that „sterilization will gradually become accepted as a means of eugenics“ to the fact that forced sterilizations were not included as a count of indictment in the Nuremberg trials to the impact that the Contraception Pill had on women’s emancipation – Jütte makes it clear that contraception is no private issue at all.

Jütte wrote a vivid historical account on fertility – not on sex; his focus is on history – not on medicine; therefore he does not only refer to actors like doctors, scientists, researchers or priests but to a certain extent also to consumers, users, couples.

Keep his foreword for dessert of this rich meal and enjoy Jütte’s private 'confessions’ at the end.


Robert Jütte: Contraception – a history. Translation by Vicky Russell, Polity Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7456-3270-4

Susanne Krejsa