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Vi våga ej helt leva: barnbegränsning, sexualitet och genus under den svenska fertilitetstransitionen
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Historical Studies.
2007 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis is about birth control, gender and sexuality during the Swedish fertility transition (1880-1940). The aim is to study birth control at both an ideational and a practical level, as well as to analyse the ways in which birth control was constructed and realised through different notions of gender. The ideational level includes studies of the Swedish morality debates, norms and ideals concerning both gender and birth control, and the radical socialist propaganda for birth control. The practical level analyses how ordinary people experienced birth control and how they motivated their decision to limit childbearing.

The thesis is grounded in post-structuralist gender theory. Gender is seen as a process with separate implications for men and women. Respectable women were supposed to demonstrate shyness, humility and sexual passivity while respectable men demonstrated responsibility, attentiveness and sexual knowledge. A respectable man should also protect his wife from pregnancy by abstaining from sex. These norms were to some extent challenged by radical propagandists who promoted mechanical birth control, rather than abstention, as a means to control fertility. In doing this they also recognised that women’s sexual needs were similar to those of men.

The second half of the thesis studies birth control at the individual level. Through a collection of letters, written by ordinary men and women and sent to the Swedish Association of Sexual Education, individual experiences and attitudes to birth control are analysed. It is concluded that preventive birth control was a male responsibility. Prevention of pregnancy intervened with sexuality and was therefore an area difficult for women to enter. The most commonly used contraceptive methods during the 1930s were withdrawal and condoms – two methods which required male responsibility. The only birth controlling method that did not intervene with sexuality was abortion. This was a traditionally female responsibility and remained within a female sphere throughout the fertility transition.

When people motivated their decision to apply birth control they referred to either the economic situation of the family, the reproductive health of the mother or the fact that they were not yet married. An overriding motive for the two first was a wish among the correspondents to remain respectable. Having a small family was in itself considered respectable by the end of the fertility transition. Acting responsibly in relation to ones children was another sign of respectability. For fathers this meant being able to support the family financially while mothers’ claim to respectability depended on the time they spent at home, with the children, as well as the appearance of both the children and the home.

The thesis concludes that the perceptions and experiences of individual men and women are of great importance when the fertility transition is studied. Reproductive decisions were made by individuals, and changes in fertility are therefore the consequence of many people deciding to alter ther sexual life in order to control reproduction. Research on the fertility transition would therefore gain credibility from integrating sources of a more qualitative character into the study.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Historiska studier , 2007. , 333 p.
Report from the Demographic Data Base, ISSN 0349-5132 ; 28
Keyword [en]
fertility, birth control, abortion, gender, sexuality, respectability, propaganda, the 19th century, the 20th century, Sweden.
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-996ISBN: 978-91-7264-242-3OAI: diva2:145319
Public defence
2007-02-23, Hörsal E, Humanisthuset, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:15
Available from: 2007-02-05 Created: 2007-02-05Bibliographically approved

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