Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England

Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England

Jennifer Evans
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt6wp873
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England
    Book Description:

    It was common knowledge in early modern England that sexual desire was malleable, and could be increased or decreased by a range of foods - including artichokes, oysters and parsnips. This book argues that these aphrodisiacs were used not simply for sexual pleasure, but, more importantly, to enhance fertility and reproductive success; and that at that time sexual desire and pleasure were felt to be far more intimately connected to conception and fertility than is the case today. It draws on a range of sources to show how, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, aphrodisiacs were recommended for the treatment of infertility, and how men and women utilised them to regulate their fertility. Via themes such as gender, witchcraft and domestic medical practice, it shows that aphrodisiacs were more than just sexual curiosities - they were medicines which operated in a number of different ways unfamiliar now, and their use illuminates popular understandings of sex and reproduction in this period.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-368-3
    Subjects: History, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
    Jennifer Evans
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Note on the Text
    (pp. viii-viii)
  7. Glossary
    (pp. ix-x)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    These diverse quotations exemplify the many surprising and socially complex ways in which aphrodisiacs were understood in early modern England.Harris’s list of Covent Garden ladies, written by Samuel Derrick, claimed to describe actual women working as prostitutes in London in the eighteenth century. This particular listing for a ‘volatile girl’ immediately emphasises the great many foods that were described as sexually stimulating, and notes their connection to pleasurable sexual encounters. The substances, in this instance and in many others, were listed by the author without any explanation, suggesting that the, predominantly male, audience was expected to know these foods...

  9. 1 Texts, Readers and Markets
    (pp. 29-50)

    InThe ten pleasures of marriage(1682) a young woman worried that she had been married three months and was yet to get pregnant. She began to gossip with her neighbours and sought their advice about the virility and sexual abilities of her husband:

    Whosoever she speaks with every one pities her, and gives her their advice: And the best sort will at the least say to her, I would oftentimes treat my husband with such sort of spices as were good for my self,viz. Oisters, Egs, Coxcombs, sweet breads, Lam-stones, Caveer [sic], &c. and counsell him every morning...

  10. 2 The Reproductive and the Infertile Body
    (pp. 51-86)

    ‘I shall proceed to unravel the mystrey [sic] of Generation’, promised the anonymous author ofAristoteles master-piecein 1684.¹ He, like other medical writers across the early modern period, expected that nearly all men and women wanted to know about sex and reproduction.² There were many different models and theories about the process of producing new life, termed ‘generation’. Medical treatises debated the relative contributions that men and women made to reproduction, the function and nature of menstrual blood, the form of the womb and the differences between the sexes. General medical treatises and treatises devoted to obstetrics also considered...

  11. 3 Provoking Lust and Promoting Conception
    (pp. 87-130)

    In this recommendation, which appeared in his 1743 treatise, Jean Astruc declared that female barrenness should be treated with aphrodisiacs. This typified the way in which early modern medical writers, physicians and the wider populace understood sexual stimulants. In this instance Astruc focused upon how aphrodisiacs that warmed the body and added fuel to the fire of sexual desire could rectify what was recognised as a very common cause of infertility, frigidity. However, his statement could easily have been applied to a range of substances that heated the body, provided nutrition, imbued the body with salt or wind, or that...

  12. 4 Enchanted Privities and Provokers of Lust
    (pp. 131-159)

    Readers of the English edition of Mattheus Gottfried Purmann’s surgical treatise (1706) were regaled with the story of a twenty-eight old year clothier, whose penis had swelled with water, making it difficult for him to urinate and to engage in sexual activity with his new wife.¹ Purmann wrote of this unfortunate man that ‘the Patient would not be perswaded but his Wife hadBewitch’dhim’.² He described how the patient received treatment that released the water from his swollen genitalia and returned everything to its natural proportion:

    Thus he continued three Weeks together, and as it may be guessed made...

  13. 5 Aphrodisiacs, Miscarriage and Menstruation
    (pp. 160-190)

    Although discussions of barrenness and infertility were centred on the moment of conception, this was not viewed in isolation. Overall it was the inability of women, and men, to produce children that medical writers and practitioners were attempting to correct. There were two particular elements of the female body and reproductive process that had to be managed in order for a couple to demonstrate their fertility through living offspring. The first of these was menstruation, which was acknowledged to be of vital importance to the process of generation. Without adequate menstruation women were thought to be incapable of conceiving or...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-196)

    Early modern medical treatises paint a picture of many men and women struggling to conceive and give birth to live children. This was more than just a medical issue: reproductive failure undermined the happiness and stability of marriages, cast aspersions on a woman’s character and hindered a man in fulfilling his patriarchal role. Childlessness was seen as a sign of God’s displeasure and in some cases was interpreted as resulting from diabolical interference. It was greatly distressing and medical writers lamented the pain and desperation that these couples experienced. They noted that women in particular followed in the footsteps of...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-212)
  16. Index
    (pp. 213-216)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-217)