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What part did the development of mechanical means of contraception play in the late nineteenth century decline in fertility?

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Introduction

What part did the development of mechanical means of contraception play in the late nineteenth century decline in fertility? In the late nineteenth century there was a marked decline in the birth rate. This coincided with mechanical means of contraception becoming widely available for the first time. It is tempting, therefore , to see this as the main cause of the decline in fertility, but it is important to question whether this was the only - or even the main -cause. To begin with, contraception was practised long before the decline in fertility began. Three types of contraception - abortion, coitus interruptus and abstinence - have existed for hundreds of years. Although they were available, however, they were not effective as a mass means of birth control. . Coitus interruptus and abstinence have obvious disadvantages which limited their effectiveness. Abortion was illegal in Britain until quite recently so we do not have reliable figures on exactly how widely practised it was, but its dangers and illegality obviously limited its general use as a means of birth control means of contraception. Therefore the new methods provided women especially with a safe and reliable means of birth control for the first time. ...read more.

Middle

Their prime purpose, therefore, was not seen as being for protection from unwanted pregnancies and their public image discouraged their general use. Other mechanical means of birth control suffered the same reputation by association. In addition to, this birth control itself was seen by some immoral, and was thought to be a sin against the Holy Ghost. Even information about methods of contraception was though of as filthy and obscene, so there was very little of it in circulation. All this changed, however, in 1877 when Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant decided to re-issue Charles Knowlton's pamphlet on birth control, The Fruits of Philosophy. Its publication in Britain was illegal, so the authors were put on trial. Ironically this did more to publicise birth control than earlier efforts to do so directly. Details of the trial were published very fully in the national and local papers. This was the first time that the subject had been discussed so publicly and openly. The publicity also caused the sales of The Fruits of Philosophy to rise considerably. Therefore many women, especially working class women, learned of the availability of contraception for the first time. ...read more.

Conclusion

At the same time the need to have a large family was being reduced by falling levels of infant mortality. When this is high it is difficult for the individual to exercise any choice over family size, since the well-being of the family unit and the community as a whole depends on it. However, when mortality rates fell it was possible to consider smaller families. So when improvements in health care and sanitation came about, and infant mortality declined it became possible, as well as desirable, to limit family size. It is obvious, therefore, that economic change and increasing prosperity contributed to the late nineteenth century decline infertility. However, the fact that the mechanical means of contraception became available at this time undoubtedly played its part since the motives for limiting family size and the means by which it could be done occurred simultaneously. As awareness and understanding grew fertility declined even further. The availability of mechanical meant of contraception may not, therefore, have been the cause of this decline but it was almost certainly the means by which it was accomplished. Change of direction in argument signalled well. Three possible reasons for the decline are detailed, but grouped together because they all relate to economics. (Evidence needed to justify arguments) Conclusion relates the two strands of the argument to each other. Satisfactorily neat. ...read more.

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