‘Fatal Secrets’ and the Silent Contraceptive Revolution of Late 18th-Century France: ‘C’est le secret du vinaigrier’?

By Laura Drewett

France led Europe’s fertility transition, preceding other countries by a century. Whether this 18th-century shift was driven by socio-economic forces or diffusion of new birth control methods or ideals has never been definitively concluded. This article considers if the contribution of rudimentary spermicides to France’s transition has been underestimated, arguing that they were subtly normalized and democratized under the guise of cosmetic vaginal astringents during France’s consumer revolution. That this occurred during the fertility transition begs the question of whether these astringents had become synonymous with birth control. The article shows how an illicit market in pornographic novels publicized intravaginal birth control to the masses. A re-evaluation of philosophical and demographic texts will suggest these astringents’ ability to impede fertility had been realized, even in rural areas. Such innovation combined with an appearance-led consumer revolution might have facilitated individualism and emancipated women from their traditional roles as mothers.

  • consumer revolution
  • cosmetics history
  • contraception
  • demographic history
  • 18th-century France
  • fertility transition
  • Moheau
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info