‘Weak Blood’ and ‘Crowded Bellies’:
Cultural Influences on Contraceptive
Use Among Ethiopian Jewish
Immigrants in Israel 1
Jennifer Phillips Davids
In this chapter I examine the ways that culturally informed notions about the body, sexuality, and health influence contraceptive practice. The analysis presented here challenges certain assumptions underlying much international family planning research:
1. that the main barrier to successful fertility control in many traditionally high fertility populations is access to contraception. 2. that the main priority of people adopting family planning methods in these populations is to limit their total fertility rather than space their children.
Using data collected from three years of anthropological research among Ethiopian Jewish immigrants in Israel I show that, despite a stated desire to have fewer children and virtually free access to Western contraceptives, the majority of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants do not use family planning methods regularly or consistently. Concerns about the longterm fertility-depressing effects of contraceptives and the cultural preoccupation with proper blood flow during menstruation (believed to be disrupted by the birth control pill, in particular) lead women to reject long-term use of such products. Most women who use birth control, do so without the desire to limit total fertility; instead, contraceptives are used primarily to control the timing of their pregnancies and to mimic the normal and culturally acceptable birth spacing found