Margaret Sanger, "Are Birth Control Methods Injurious?," Jan 1919.

Published article. Source: Birth Control Review, Jan. 1919, 3-4 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S70:811 .

Are Birth Control Methods Injurious?

By Margaret Sanger

ADVOCATES OF SCIENTIFIC Birth Control are sometimes met with the absurd statement that such methods are injurious to the health of the woman. It is even asserted that they cause cancer and other disease and that they bring about sterility.

As applied to scientific Birth Control, these statements are both false and silly. In the light of the best authoritative information of the day, it can be unequivocally set down that modern Birth Control methods, properly employed, are not only not injurious but are often positively beneficial to the woman's health. The contrary is maintained for the most part by those who are mentally honest but uninformed or by such as are altogether prejudiced.

The clergy, bound to its theological dogmas is usually opposed to Birth Control methods and is only too ready to accept any bald statement leveled against them. A few physicians who are uninformed as to modern means of Birth Control, still incline to the opinion that they are injurious, but these physicians have in mind the earlier, cruder means of preventing conception.

Some of the persons who maintain that preventive measures are injurious are so ignorant of the whole subject that they in opposing abortion call it Birth Control. Still others believe that harmful drugs are given internally as contraceptives. They, of course, confuse abortives with the means of preventing conception. Anyone who knows anything about either Birth Control or abortion knows that scientific Birth Control methods would do away with abortions which occur in appalling numbers in America every year.

ONE COMMONLY PRACTICED method of preventing conception is not only uncertain but beyond all doubt injurious to the woman's health. This is the one which, because of the withholding of scientific information upon the subject is most commonly used. It was perhaps the earliest method known and was condemned by the wise men among the ancient Jews, being anathematized in the Bible in a very specific fashion. Modern science sometimes calls it Onanism from the name of the Biblical character who, we are told, was signally punished for practising it.

Until recent years it was supposed that this method was injurious to the man alone, but it has been discovered that the man in many cases seems to suffer no ill effects, while the woman's health may actually be wrecked.

Mantegazza believes that organic disease of the spinal cord may follow this practice. Hirt says that it may lead to neurasthenic disorders. Eulenberg is of much the same opinion. Valenta declares that it is one of the chief causes of chronic netritis. Kleinwachter says that its harm to the system of the woman is by no means trivial. Still other great authorities who have pointed out the dangerous effects of the practice are Forel, Von Krafft-Ebing, Mensinga, Freud, Lowenfeld, Elischer and Ellis.

"The lack of sexual satisfaction" says Kisch, as a sort of final word upon the subject, "aggravates nervous and hysterical troubles in women, while suitably regulatedä intercourse with mutual satisfaction has an actively beneficial effect."

This method, then, in the opinion of the best informed of modern Birth Control advocates is unscientific, and dangerous. In the same class so far as being unscientific and injurious to the health is continence, much advocated but little practiced. This subject will be considered in a later article as will the question whether scientific Birth Control methods are certain. For the present it is enough to point out that scientific Birth Control methods exclude those which are either uncertain or injurious and that the advocates of Birth Control stand for the dissemination of knowledge which will permit mothers to limit their families in a sane, scientific, healthful way.

THE FIRST ESSENTIAL in Birth Control is cleanliness and a sane observance of the principles of sex hygiene. These factors alone, taught to a woman, ignorant of the proper care of her physical functions until she sought knowledge of Birth Control, have restored many to health and have even disposed of many cases of sterility. It is the consensus of modern medical opinion not only that scientific Birth Control methods are not harmful but in thousands of cases very beneficial to women suffering from leucorrhea, inflamed cervix and other local disturbances.

Among the objects of attacks by opponents of Birth Control are cleansing, antiseptic solutions, and the like. It is to be remembered that these are not preventives and are not to be depended upon as much. As the term indicates, an antiseptic is designed for and serves certain medical purposes. Its function when applied to the reproductive organs of a woman is medicinal or hygienic, not the prevention of conception. Injuries to women from the use of antiseptics result from ignorance or lack of proper directions, as would be the result if such solutions were improperly applied to a wound or a surgical incision.

Mechanical means have also been attacked, it being alleged that they cause cancer. Mechanical devices worn too constantly might produce irritation and cause trouble. A number of new devices have not yet been sufficiently tested to make an opinion as to their harmlessness possible at this time. And dangerous devices will be employed or devices misused as long as law and custom deny to woman knowledge of scientific means of determining the number of her children and the time of their birth.

A glance at statistics disposes of the contention that Birth Control is responsible for the development of cancer. The implication which the opponents of Birth Control seek to leave is that as the birth rate falls because of the use of contraceptives, the cancer rate rises. The contention is sheer nonsense. As far back as 1876 before the birth rate began to fall, the cancer rate began to rise. Moreover, it is only among women who have reached the age of 65 that the increase is noted. It seems probable that women above 65 have not used contraceptives, as they were not so widely known during the child bearing days of women even now at that age. And if they had been known, it would seem very unlikely that a contraceptive used during their child-bearing period would cause cancer twenty years afterwards. Nor is this all--further light on this particular absurdity is that no increase in the rate of cancers affecting women's reproductive organs has been noted.

STATISTICS OF SEVERAL countries throw still more light upon the preposterousness of the contention. Ireland has had an increasing cancer rate for twenty years with a constant birth rate. Birth Control certainly is not responsible there. For five years of diminishing birth rate due to the application of scientific Birth Control, Holland has shown also a decrease in the cancer rate. France, where Birth Control methods are in wide use, has a cancer mortality of only .76 per thousand as against .95 in England and Wales, where the birth rate was .28 per thousand at that time.

The assertion that Birth Control methods induce sterility is equally ridiculous. Many a woman, through the use of scientific contraceptives has so toned up and strengthened her reproductive organs as to become capable of child bearing when she would otherwise have continued barren. Where sterility has been laid to contraceptives, physicians have discovered in nearly every case conclusive proof of some condition in the woman or her husband which would have prevented children under any circumstances. In thousands of cases where women have practiced scientific Birth Control for five, ten and even twenty years, they have later borne strong, healthy children. Usually the child is stronger in such cases because the mother has waited until her health is at its best and the family means are such as to give the baby the proper care, before and after its birth.

Dr. William J. Robinson's challenge, issued several years ago, still remains unanswered. "I challenge" said he, "any physician and gynecologist to bring forth a single authenticated case in which disease or injury resulted from modern methods of prevention."

The gist of the matter then is this: scientific Birth Control is not only harmless but often a direct benefit to the health. Unscientific contraceptives are as likely to harm their users as any other unscientific thing applied to or used in connection with any part of the body. The plain conclusion is that with the health of the womanhood of America at stake, the medieval laws and customs which prevent full and free dissemination of information concerning scientific Birth Control should be sent to the scrap heap along with rack, the thumb screws and other outworn instruments of torture.

BESIDES BEING HARMLESS and of positive benefit locally, scientific Birth Control methods have a much more important function for the improvement of the health of women. Anyone who knows anything at all about the subject knows that the health of a woman who is the mother of two or three children born several years apart is better than that of the mother of many children who follow each other at periods of a year or two.

Nor is this all. The dread of undesired pregnancy is the nightmare of the lives of millions of women. To this cause and this cause alone is directly traceable the wrecking of the physical systems of many of them. Wille, a prominent authority quoted by Kisch, asserts that "the continued fear of pregnancy will in most cases do more injury to the feminine system than all the preventive measures in the world."

No woman can be healthy or strong who lives continuously in fear. Moreover, it is a fact universally recognized by physicians that to a nervously weak woman, preventive measures are necessary and a number of them are even helpful in regaining her health.

The sooner these facts are understood, the sooner the laws against the spread of scientific Birth Control are abrogated and information concerning reliable and safe or beneficial contraceptives comes within the reach of all women, the quicker the question of the general health of women will be settled.

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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project