Bromo Selzer douches, pregnancy protection amulets, pennyroyal teas, birch bark tampons, slippery elm sticks — these are but a few of the myriad methods women in different parts of the world have used in their efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Meanwhile, the obstacles they have had to confront have included religious proscriptions, punitive law codes, persecution of midwives, and the devaluing of folk knowledge.
Sex and Herbs and Birth Control is a lively, provocative account of women’s attempts to provide themselves with as wide a range of reproductive options as possible. A more detailed description of the book and ordering information can be found here.
A review in Feminist Wire can be found here.
“fearlessly female-centric” — Publishers Weekly
On September 24, 2015 the Institute for Humanities Research (IHR) of Arizona State University gave Sex and Herbs and Birth Control its Transdisciplinary Book Award. The Associate Director of the IHR, Professor Cora Fox, presented the award with the following words:
“Sex and Herbs and Birth Control is a radical book. It is experimental in its style in that each chapter is a narrative filled with anecdotes, asides and comparisons that are grounded in deep humanities research and study. The chapters read like casual conversations, debunking myths and making connections, but then they conclude with about 100 endnotes on 10-15 pages backing up the observations and arguments made in the book’s pages. It is a work of public humanities: it draws the lay reader into the intellectual space of a working academic who researches and thinks deeply about these issues, and who is the best kind of person–a deeply embedded, teaching academic–to tell such tales.
“Its content is radical too in the sense that it simply assumes that women are, in Koblitz’s words “resilient and resourceful creatures,” and it focuses on women’s regulation of their own fertility–their own bodies–even when that regulation is devalued, displaced, or criminalized as it has been in the history of abortion in the United States and Europe. Koblitz focuses on the “degradation of knowledge” that has occurred with regard to fertility regulation and hypothesizes about the causes of this degradation–from social movements such as the industrial revolution to the rise of modern medicine as both an institution and an idea–and she upends many myths regarding birth control and abortion, both popular and academic (in the case of demography) and sheds light in many dark corners of history with stories of eugenics and attempts to undermine women’s autonomy. She insists always on the complexity of ideas and practices surrounding fertility regulation, revealing, for instance, that if we understand pregnancy in its full complexity as a process, a woman can indeed be a little bit pregnant. And throughout she allows the cross-cultural abundance of ancient and contemporary practices of fertility regulation—involving herbs, barriers, and instruments both medical and non-medical—to be the matter of the book, to speak for itself, as it were.
“Her book speaks, ultimately, both for the women who are her focus and for the intensely humanistic but also interdisciplinary method of her academic work, and in doing this it offers us a model for how we as academics can tell stories that shift the boundaries of what we know and what we do.”