Menstruation and religion: a discussion - bibliography of religion and menstruation, and a general English-language bibliography of menstruation (and one for German books) - Mikvah (ritual bath for Orthodox Jews), 18th-century engraving; visit Web sites about the mikvah, behavior during niddah (the time when a woman is menstruating, in Judaism) and Jewish ritual-purity - menstrual myths - slapping your daughter at her first menstruation (in Jewish tradition)
Read a letter about the Celts, women and menstruation
Preparing for Womanhood (1920s, booklet for girls) - "Are you in the know?" ads (Kotex) (1949)(1953)(1964)(booklet, 1956) - See more ads on the Ads for Teenagers main page
Ads for the Kotex stick tampon (U.S.A., 1970s) - a Japanese stick tampon from the 1970s.
Early commercial tampons - Rely tampon - Meds tampon (Modess)
CONTRIBUTE to Humor, Words and expressions about menstruation and Would you stop menstruating if you could?
Some MUM site links:
homepage | MUM address & What does MUM mean? | e-mail the museum | privacy on this site | who runs this museum?? |
Amazing women! | the art of menstruation | artists (non-menstrual) | asbestos | belts | bidets | founder bio | Bly, Nellie | MUM board | books: menstruation and menopause (and reviews) | cats | company booklets for girls (mostly) directory | contraception and religion | costumes | menstrual cups | cup usage | dispensers | douches, pain, sprays | essay directory | extraction | facts-of-life booklets for girls | famous women in menstrual hygiene ads | FAQ | founder/director biography | gynecological topics by Dr. Soucasaux | humor | huts | links | masturbation | media coverage of MUM | menarche booklets for girls and parents | miscellaneous | museum future | Norwegian menstruation exhibit | odor | olor | pad directory | patent medicine | poetry directory | products, current | puberty booklets for girls and parents | religion | Religión y menstruación | your remedies for menstrual discomfort | menstrual products safety | science | Seguridad de productos para la menstruación | shame | slapping, menstrual | sponges | synchrony | tampon directory | early tampons | teen ads directory | tour of the former museum (video) | underpants & panties directory | videos, films directory | Words and expressions about menstruation | Would you stop menstruating if you could? | What did women do about menstruation in the past? | washable pads
Leer la versión en español de los siguientes temas: Anticoncepción y religión, Breve reseña - Olor - Religión y menstruación - Seguridad de productos para la menstruación.



Contraception and religion
A short history

by Kathleen O'Grady
(in Spanish translation here by Maria Garcia)

Kathleen O'Grady, who has contributed many items to this Web site, most notably the bulk of the bibliography and a large part of the discussion on religion and menstruation, generously sent to this site her article, below, from The Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion (Serinity Young et al. (eds). Macmillan, 1999).

Contraception has been known to humankind from the earliest times. Ancient Jewish sources, early Islamic medical texts, and Hindu sacred scriptures all indicate that herbal contraceptives could induce temporary sterility. Today, however, there exists no uniform position on contraception within each of the major religious traditions; rather, the issue is marked by a plurality of views from followers, religious leaders and scholars. All of the traditions discussed below are founded on notions of fertility and procreation within the family and thus, while the views on contraception vary widely, no religion advocates the goal of a childless marriage or the use of contraception outside of the marriage contract.

The Hebrew Bible promotes prolific childbirth - "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28) has been taken by both Jews and Christians as God's "first commandment" - yet there is only one explicit reference to birth control; Genesis 38:9-10, states that during intercourse Onan "spilled his seed on the ground" (coitus interruptus). This was "evil in the sight of the Lord" and was punished by Onan's death. Jewish Talmudic literature builds on this passage and prohibits the use of any contraceptive device for use by men which would waste the "male seed"; female contraceptives may be permitted for health reasons (danger to the mother or to the potential child). This remains the Orthodox position on contraception, which accepts abstinence as the only permissible birth control method except where health reasons apply. Conservative and Reform views, which note that sexual pleasure between married couples is permissible and sanctioned by the rabbinical literature, authorize social, environmental and economic reasons for the use of birth control in addition to the health factors accepted by Orthodox practice, and leave the decision to individual choice (declared formally at the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1930; and the Rabbinical Assembly of America, 1935).

Prior to the 1930s all Christian denominations were united in their firm rejection of contraceptives. The Lambeth Conference of the Church of England (1930) marks the first departure from this unanimous prohibition, by advocating the use of artificial contraception when abstinence was deemed impracticable. The Federal Council of Churches (1931) equally adopted a policy of conservative advocation for artificial birth control methods. Most major Protestant traditions followed suit, and by 1961, the National Council of Churches declared a liberal policy on contraceptive use, subject to mutual consent between couples.

The total prohibition of artificial birth control methods by the Roman Catholic church, declared by Pope Pius XI in his 1930 encyclical, Casi Connubii, was maintained by the 1968 Humanae vitae (the encyclical of Pope Paul VI), and constitutes the present day policy of the church. The Catholic position on contraception is highly influenced by the natural law theory of Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, which deems that sexuality has as its end purpose, procreation; to interfere in this end would be a violation of the natural law, and thus, a sin. This view is maintained by some Anglicans, Evangelicals, and Christian fundamentalist denominations as well. The Catholic Church sanctions only abstinence and the Natural Family Planning method (NFP) as suitable techniques for birth control.

Unlike the Catholic tradition, the Eastern Orthodox Church does not discern a moral difference between artificial or natural birth control methods. They note that many Church Fathers, as well as the Pauline texts in the New Testament, do not strictly limit sexual intercourse to procreation; the Orthodox position is that sexual intercourse also constitutes an expression of love within the marriage contract. No official statement has been made on prohibitions for artificial contraceptives, while abortion, infanticide and permanent sterilization have been condemned. The Orthodox Church allows a married couple to make their own decisions on contraceptive use.

There is a wide-spread variation on attitudes to contraception in the Islamic faith. The Quaran states: "You should not kill your children for fear of want" (17:31; and 6:151). Critics of birth control argue that this can be extended to include a ban on all family planning methods, while advocates of birth control indicate that this passage explicitly refers to infanticide, and note that there is no prohibition against birth control in the Quaran. Further, the Hadith and Sunna literature clearly permits the practice of coitus interruptus ('azl), and sources indicate that 'azl was practiced by the prophet Muhammed himself (Sunna related by Jabir). Those in favour of contraception argue that artificial birth control is morally the same as 'azl and therefore to be accepted. Most Muslim traditions permit the use of birth control where health reasons are an issue or where the well-being of the family is concerned; this affords great flexibility and latitude in interpretation and is reflected by the vast differences in policies on family planning by distinct Muslim groups and countries. Despite varying viewpoints, the emphasis remains on procreation within the family as a religious duty. There is unanimous rejection of sterilization and abortion.

Hinduism actively encourages a prolific procreation within marriage but there is no prohibition against birth control in the Hindu religion. The Upanishads describe a birth control method (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) and temporary abstinence is advocated in the Shastras, while abortion is condemned. Still there is a wide variance of views on contraception by Hindu scholars: Gandhi advocated birth control based on abstinence and not through artificial means, while Radhakrishnan and Tagore, on the other hand, promoted the use of artificial methods. India was the first nation to establish a governmental population strategy based on birth control measures.

Common concerns unite all major religious traditions on the issue of birth control. The critics of family planning in each tradition fear that contraceptive use will encourage immorality and illicit sex, while further, many non-Western faiths fear that liberal contraceptive policies encourage a Western model of living that would destroy the family and family values. Feminist commentators have viewed prohibitions on birth control as a means to control female sexuality and independence.


Most of the literature on contraception and religion is contained in sociological, health or environmental studies on population control. Very little work has been completed specifically on the relation between birth control and religious institutions, but references to contraception (particularly with a feminist analysis) can be found in more general texts on women and religion or in articles dealing with religious views of abortion.

Catholic and Islamic opinions of birth control are the most comprehensively covered in the secondary literature. Janet E. Smith's Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later (1991) offers a systematic examination of the moral and theological implications of the arguments against the present Catholic prohibition on artificial birth control methods, and argues that the Church ruling on birth control is a logical extension of its traditional teachings on morality and the family; while this is a conservative text that supports the ban on contraception it nevertheless offers the most detailed historical information on the arguments against birth control in the Catholic church to date. Similarly, Abortion, Birth Control & Surrogate Parenting: An Islamic Perspective by Abul Fadl Mohsin Ebrahim supports a conservative Muslim position on contraception, yet offers a clear and concise listing of the primary text references and religious commentaries on the subject. Feminist analysis of contraception in the Islamic tradition include Islam, Gender and Social Change edited by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and John L. Esposito (1998) and Theodora Foster Carroll's "Islam and Population" in her Women, Religion, and Development in the Third World (1983). The most recent information on religious views of contraception can be found in the proceedings of the September 1994 United Nations conference on Population and Development held in Cairo (Document A/Conf.171/13). See specifically Chapter VII: "Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health" and the reservations to this chapter made by various Islamic countries and the Holy See. Proceedings of the International Islamic Conference in Rabat, 1971, are also available in printed form as Islam and Family Planning (Isam R. Nazer et al. eds, International Planned Parenthood Federation, 1974).

In "Hindu Ethics for Modern Life" (pp. 5-35, in World Religions and Global Ethics, S. Cromwell Crawford , ed., 1989) S. Cromwell Crawford includes an extensive section on birth control in a Hindu context. Bardwell Smith offers an account of Japanese Buddhist views on contraception in "Buddhism and Abortion in Contemporary Japan" (pp. 65-90 in Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender, José Ignacio Cabezón, ed., 1992). Susan Power Bratton's Six Billion and More: Human Population Regulation and Christian Ethics (1992) links a Christian moral theology with issues of contraception and population control. "The Morality of Contraception: An Eastern Orthodox Opinion" (Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. XI, No. 4, 1974, pp. 677-690) by Chrysostom Zaphiris, an Orthodox theologian himself, contrasts the views of the Roman Catholic church with those of the Eastern Orthodoxy on the concept of family planning generally. Similarly, Harmon L. Smith contrasts Anglican views of contraception with Catholic natural law theory in "Contraception and Natural Law: A Half-Century of Anglican Moral Reflection" (pp. 181-200 in The Anglican Moral Choice, Paul Elmen ed., 1983).

Kathleen O'Grady

Kathleen O'Grady is Bank of Montreal Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Women's Studies, University of Ottawa ( She has written extensively on feminist philosophy. Her book, Sweet Secrets: Stories of Menstruation, with Paula Wansbrough (Toronto: Second Story Press, 1997) contains a cross-cultural study of menarche as a rite of passage for teenage girls.

See Egyptian hieroglyphics from about 1550 B.C.E. describing a tampon used for contraception.
Australian douche ads in the "Wife's Guide and Friend": The Australian government prosecuted this publication for being obscene because it advertised contraceptives and contained birth control information.
See Fresca douche powder (early 20th century, U.S.A.); the label contains language possibly hinting at contraceptive use.
Read selections from Married Love (first published 1918), Dr. Marie Stopes' book that was banned until 1931 in America. Dr. Stopes founded the first birth-control clinic in the British Empire, in 1921, and it's still running.
Menstruation and religion: a discussion - Bibliography of religion and menstruation, and a general English-language bibliography of menstruation (and one for German books) - Mikvah (ritual bath for Orthodox Jews), 18th-century engraving; visit Web sites about the mikvah, behavior during niddah (the time when a woman is menstruating, in Judaism) and Jewish ritual-purity - menstrual myths - slapping your daughter at her first menstruation (in Jewish tradition)
Read a letter about the Celts, women and menstruation

Copyright 1999 Kathleen O'Grady