Magazine article The Nation

Coitus Subversicus

Magazine article The Nation

Coitus Subversicus

Article excerpt

It's always dangerous to make jokes. Not so long ago I noted that Italy currently has a negative population growth. I wondered whether Italian women were indulging in a Lysistrata-like protest against the Pope's posture on contraception and abortion.

It was not long before a letter from Betsy Krause of Tucson, Arizona, fetched up here in Petrolia. "Your suggestion," wrote Ms. Krause, "that low fertility might be a Lysistratalike protest against the Pope, though somewhat cryptic, hints at a political motivation behind the low fertility. I explore the possibility of coitus interruptus as resistance to Mussolini's pronatalist demographic campaign in a paper in the most recent issue of the Journal of Historical Sociology."

She enclosed the paper, which was interesting, albeit sometimes impenetrable in its discussion of hegemony. Mussolini shifted from a neo-Malthusian position in 1924 and began to lecture Italian women on the need to increase Italy's population. Abortion and the dissemination of birth control information were criminalized. Contraceptive devices were banned.

Krause quotes oral histories collected in Sicily by a couple called Jane and Peter Schneider, who interviewed people who were young artisans at the time and found that families dropped in size from a norm of five to thirteen children to two to three children. The shift occurred during the twenties. "Artisan men adopted coitus interruptus with thoroughness and ideological commitment," wrote the Schneiders in 1984. The technique became known as la marcia in dietro, or "reverse gear." This was around the time of the first appearance of automobiles in Sicily. …

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