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Mon Aug 20, 2012, 05:05 AM

Rep. Akin-Fertilization and Embryology perceptions in the Middle Ages

Medieval individuals believed a woman's seed lingered in the medium of sexual fluid (Riddle, Contraception 96). This notion differs from the contemporary biological understanding that eggs are produced in the ovaries and released during menstruation. If medieval peoples believed that the egg was a product of secretions during intercourse, what, then was menstruation's perceived purpose? Lore reveals that, like intercourse, menstruation served to purge the woman of her dangerous seed, and in the absence of either of these events, masturbation was encouraged as a means of staving off complications--most notably respiratory and mental in nature--that could arise from seed accumulation. Because the female seed was supposedly located within the sexual fluid, female orgasm was believed to be necessary for conception and, thus, pregnancy. Accordingly, rape victims, prostitutes who no longer enjoyed sexual relations, and women with less-than-gifted partners could not conceive children.


Jacquart, Danielle and Claude Thomasset. Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton

UP, 1988.

Riddle, John. Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. Cambridge: Harvard

UP, 1992.

---. Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997.

Thomasset, Claude. "The Nature of Woman." A History of Women. Ed. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber.

Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992. 43-69.

Representative Akin - sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee..."

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Reply Rep. Akin-Fertilization and Embryology perceptions in the Middle Ages (Original post)
Ichingcarpenter Aug 2012 OP
lapfog_1 Aug 2012 #1
KT2000 Aug 2012 #2
Ichingcarpenter Aug 2012 #3

Response to Ichingcarpenter (Original post)

Mon Aug 20, 2012, 05:13 AM

1. There is a corollary to the logic

any rape victim that became pregnant as a result, must have had an orgasm with the rapist, thus making the rape victim a slut or harlot (or at least unfaithful). Thus the tradition of blaming the victim.

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Response to Ichingcarpenter (Original post)

Mon Aug 20, 2012, 05:34 AM

2. where were these idiots like Akin

These ignorant men want to be the "deciders" for women's health.
That they are being elected is beyond frightening.
(good find by the way)

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Response to Ichingcarpenter (Original post)

Mon Aug 20, 2012, 08:52 AM

3. The Guardian just posted a story on this

but I was one of the first, I'm a good researcher but not a good writer.

The idea that rape victims cannot get pregnant has long roots. The legal position that pregnancy disproved a claim of rape appears to have been instituted in the UK sometime in the 13th century. One of the earliest British legal texts, Fleta, has a clause in the first book of the second volume stating that:

"If, however, the woman should have conceived at the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman's consent she could not conceive."

This was a long-lived legal argument. Samuel Farr's Elements of Medical Jurisprudence contained the same idea as late as 1814:

"For without an excitation of lust, or the enjoyment of pleasure in the venereal act, no conception can probably take place. So that if an absolute rape were to be perpetrated, it is not likely she would become pregnant."

This "absolute rape" is not quite the same as Akin's "legitimate rape". Akin seems to be suggesting that the body suppresses conception or causes a miscarriage, while the earlier idea of Farr relates specifically to the importance of orgasm. Through the medieval and early modern period it was widely thought, by lay people as well as doctors, that women could only conceive if they had an orgasm.

The biological basis for this idea is what the historian Thomas Laqueur has termed the "one sex system". The one sex system suggests that women's reproductive organs are fundamentally based on men's reproductive organs, so the vagina is represented as an inverted penis, the ovaries are testes and so on. Women had "cooler" constitutions, and therefore lacked the heat or force to drive the gonads out of the body, to convert ovaries to testes.


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