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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. This article presents an exploration of qualitative evidence on the relationship between birth control and abstinence from an oral history project, which interviewed middle and working-class English men and women, who had married between the late s and the early s. Among the working classes the assumption that men were responsible for birth control choices and the disadvantages that contraceptive methods of all types posed, combined with the fear of pregnancy, acted as a disincentive to have sex and resulted in forms of partial abstinence.

Among the middle classes, women had much more access to birth control information and as a consequence a greater range of methods was used, including more female methods. However, the reluctance of couples to discuss sexual matters, and some continued preference for male methods meant that while condoms were the most regularly used middle-class male method, both withdrawal and abstinence were also in evidence.

Moreover, although partners Naughty women want real sex Exeter more likely to discuss birth control at the start of their marriages, they were less likely to agree that contraception was a male responsibility and there was greater potential for conflict over contraceptive methods, not infrequently resulting in abstinence.

The evidence suggests that sexual and contraceptive practices in marriages in England at the end of the secular fertility decline do not present a picture which straightforwardly correlates with the assumptions represented by the popular thesis that this period of increased fertility control was closely associated with the rise of companionate marriage. The dramatic reduction in average family size from the late nineteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century has dominated historical and demographic study of marital relationships during this period. Was sex and love in marriage transformed by the rise of family planning during the era of fertility decline in quite the way envisaged by the thesis of the rise of companionate marriage?

This article presents some new evidence from an oral history investigation, the first conducted in Britain specifically to interview both women and men on issues of birth control and sexuality. Just under 90 men and women from both working class and middle classes were interviewed in two contrasting locations, Blackburn in the heart of industrial south Lancashire and Harpenden in affluent semi-rural west Hertfordshire, just north-west of London for more details see Appendix A. In particular, we will explore reported abstinence and variability in coital frequency and the links drawn by respondents of all classes between levels of sexual activity and periods of stress, marital conflict or contraceptive anxiety.

Almost all interviewees used some form of birth control to regulate their family size.

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There were, however, differences in methods used in Hertfordshire and in Blackburn and also between social classes. Withdrawal was rather less used by the middle classes in both regions. Among the Hertfordshire working classes higher condom use was found alongside less reliance on withdrawal than among the Blackburn working class. Among the middle classes in Hertfordshire this also extended to considerable use of female methods, which was largely absent from the testimony of the northern middle-class interviewees or the working classes in either north or south.

Reportage of preparedness to countenance abortion was also most likely among southern middle-class interviewees. Finally, in both Hertfordshire and in Blackburn, among both the middle-classes and the working-classes forms of abstinence were generally important, though for very different reasons. If abstinence is defined rigidly, as did the Royal Commission on Population of —9, as complete avoidance of sexual intercourse on a permanent basis and lasting for a period of at least 6 months, 11 the of respondents in Blackburn and Harpenden definitely recalling such abstinence Naughty women want real sex Exeter their marriages would be somewhat under one in ten.

This occurred in testimony relating to almost half of the marriages. As most scholars acknowledge, defining, counting or assessing abstinence is conceptually fraught. Would this question even make sense…? However, on the other hand, a considerable of interviewees pointed out that they thought their sexual frequency was relatively low and some linked periods during which their ardour waned with fertility issues the effect of contraception on sexual pleasure; the burdens of a large family; health worries about pregnancy and so on.

The oral history testimony uncovers many of these kinds of complex versions of abstinence, where narratives of low sexual frequency and modified sexual desire combined with discussion of the pressure to use birth control and ambiguous responses to methods of contraception. Lorna was typical of this: her version of abstinence linked low sexual Naughty women want real sex Exeter to the pressures of working hard while bringing-up children.

Her husband was a valve-tester at Mullards factory in Blackburn, whose childhood rheumatic fever excused him from military service. They had married in and she worked as a busy weaver throughout the period they brought up her two children, born in and In this extract Lorna distinguishes between the importance of sex in a loving marriage when young, and how other things take its place later — looking after children together, working and bringing in money — and a notion that a different form of sexual love emerges — one focused on spontaneity which is sensitive to tiredness and other burdens.

She sees her marriage as a loving relationship in which sex was spontaneous but flexible and took of her and the other pressures she was under, her need to sleep after work and look after children. This is a testimony about the caring and sharing balance required in a loving marriage 17 and the way in which a considerate and moderate form of male sexuality expresses that love. During that time you were having sex, how many times a week or a month would you be having sex at that time? Well, i. So that were when he were extra special careful and and it was less. So did you reduce the amount of sex in order to reduce the chance of pregnancy?

We had g But um, no he he he respected me really and he knew my fears so he controlled his, and er he was a controlled man. In a little under one half 13 of the 33 cases in which some form of abstinence was described the degree of abstinence practised was represented, as here, as being by mutual agreement of the two partners. Indeed, this was a consideration in about one-fifth of the marriages where it was reported that abstinence was adopted — abstinence was typically part of the response of couples in those cases to a compelling medical warning.

Among the working-class respondents, particularly those interviewed in Blackburn, French letters, female caps and female pessaries were less frequently used than among the middle-class respondents. When you, when you said that you were practising contraception with condoms, a[nd got] pregnant twice in fact.

And, so how many years were you practising with condoms and then withdrawal? Grace: Well neither, neither was really. However, as will be shown here many, perhaps especially among those who used withdrawal, were also disinclined to have sex, when highly motivated to avoid pregnancy. This was particularly true for some women, but some men also responded to this disinclination sympathetically and sought to care for their wives by modifying their desire; sometimes such moderation of libido was sustained by their own dissatisfactions with alternative birth control methods.

As has been shown elsewhere working-class respondents invariably presented birth control as something women usually relied on men to provide. Well I suppose he knew all that, knew more than me cos he were older than me, you know. Jennie, a lifelong Blackburnite born inwas a weaver before she married a sawmill factory worker a year older than herself inthe same year her one child was born. Sally, daughter of an engineering fitter, was also a working-class Blackburnite born in and married to man a year older.

Her testimony demonstrates how this convention of relying on the husband and his typical choice of withdrawal extended across the spectrum of working-class cultures in Blackburn. Their one child was born in after an initial miscarriage. Sally portrayed herself as very much involved in decisions to delay having a baby at the beginning of the marriage. Indeed his care for her in practising withdrawal was something she much appreciated:.

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By contrast, working-class respondents interviewed in Hertfordshire were more likely to recall the use of condoms by husbands. But they shared in common with working-class interviewees elsewhere their portrayal of wives as too innocent and shy to be taking the initiative where contraception was concerned. Dora and Joe married in and had two children. He was a car mechanic. She was religiously active and had attended a mission throughout her youth in Bethnal Green.

Erm did you, did you use contraception at any point? Did you, did you need to use birth control? Both men and women were motivated to reduce the amount they had sex at particular times during a marriage and either consciously or unconsciously said they found themselves disinclined to have sex at those times.

Such periods could include immediately after marriage as a couple struggled to set up house together or during the final fertile decades when the desired family size had been reached. For both men and women, fear of pregnancy was a powerful disincentive.

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Many respondents linked lulls in sexual frequency with particular periods of their marriages when a pregnancy was deemed risky, dangerous, financially unsustainable or emotionally impossible. The fear it stopped you. While others in similar situations continued to have sex, this was frequently combined with a partial form of abstinence.

In these circumstances, the likelihood that an avoidance of contraceptive risk-taking would lead to periods of sexual abstinence, or low sexual frequency was compounded and increased by the relationship between female sexual pleasure and fear of pregnancy. It is therefore not surprising to find that women who were especially anxious to avoid pregnancy found themselves reluctant to have sex, especially given the awareness that contraceptive methods were fallible and that withdrawal in particular might not be adequately or skilfully employed.

She had a very happy marriage, and they only had one child born inalthough they subsequently discovered that contraception was unnecessary as she was unable to conceive again:. Tired, or deliberately not doing because of, um, that fear was utmost Naughty women want real sex Exeter your mind. Most working-class respondents did not recall overt conflict between partners concerning contraceptive practice.

This is not, however, to suggest that, unlike middle-class interviewees outlined below, approaches to family building were entirely consensual or harmonious. The imperative to keep discussion of sexual matters to a minimum, combined with a Naughty women want real sex Exeter accepted gender division of responsibilities towards birth control meant that working-class relationships were full of implicit tensions and silent consensus.

Despite the fact that most women accepted the notion that a husband had a right to regular intercourse, in times of contraceptive conflict periods of abstinence might be engineered. For Doreen, married in at age 24 to a man five years older, sex was frequently painful and difficult. She developed a range of non-confrontational strategies to avoid having sex too often:. Doreen: No, just if the mood came over him. The avoidance of sex without open conflict or argument increased at times when the marriage was under considerable strain.

Larry, a foreman bricklayer, was adamant that Doreen should not go out to work after the children started school, which she resented. She had a poor upbringing, but middle-class relatives and was independent, intelligent and ambitious. Larry apparently feared that she thought herself superior to him and wanted to be recognized as a sole breadwinner able to support his wife alone. Whereas for her employment was an expression of her talents, for Larry a wife who worked ified his financial failure.

Although she initially rejected the idea that her frustrations affected their sex life, and stressed the ways in which she silently put up with her situation, it was clear that avoiding sex was one of the weapons she used to demonstrate her annoyance. In particular, she found his willingness to apologize in bed and to make up through sex, before the cycle started over again, particularly infuriating. She began to see sex less as an expression of his care or love for her and rather as a new element of his selfishness. If sex was merely something he desired for his own pleasure, then she was less inclined to provide sexual access:.

Doreen: I used to keep quiet, used to keep quiet. Well, I thought all men were alike. I made him go hungry…got to shake hands with it himself. Do you not think so? Many men were concerned that their wives enjoyed sex. They were thus determined to choose a method of birth control which suited their spouse.

Merlin borna bus and tram driver, who had 7 siblings but only one child himself, used withdrawal, despite the fact that he thought withdrawal interfered more with his own personal pleasure, because his wife hated French letters:. Lucy: Well, what the man puts on.

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