Blast from the Past: When Contraception Came To Iceland - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Blast from the Past: When Contraception Came To Iceland

Published June 1, 2017

STDs are on the rise, and the Health Minister has set up a working group which will have delivered their findings on June 1. But this is not the first time the Icelandic authorities have intervened to keep local genitals safe. In 1920, doctor Guðmundur Hannesson published his booklet ‘ Social Diseases and Protection from Them: Directions for the Common People, Especially Sailors’ . At the time, rubber protection was well-known abroad, but Icelanders were wary of anything that could lead to promiscuity and discussion was rare.

“Strategies for avoiding pregnancy were also a problematic topic.”

For that reason, strategies for avoiding pregnancy were also a problematic topic. An addendum to Björg Þorláksson’ s 1928 book ‘ Spousal Love’ did broach the subject of contraception, the rationale being that women should avoid more childbirths than their health would allow. Three years later, doctor Katrín Thoroddsen caused a furore when she gave a lecture on the subject, titled “ Free Love.” But her opinion prevailed and from 1935, doctors were obliged to give contraceptive advice.

Traditionally, the surest way to avoid pregnancy was to abstain, and society encouraged this by forbidding children to those without their own farms. People generally married in their late 20s but had many children thereafter. In the 1930s, childbirth decreased markedly. Some historians surmise that this was partially due to an older technique known to some—pulling out— gaining common currency. This seems to have produced better results than advice previously offered by some doctors: running up and down stairs unt il the pregnancy was terminated.


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