University of Hertfordshire

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-457
JournalWomen's History Review
Journal publication dateJul 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


Philip Barrough wrote in 1590 that barrenness ‘is caused of the womans part or of the mans part’. By the eighteenth century, however, barrenness was perceived as a female disorder distinguished from male impotence. Few historians have addressed the uncertainty surrounding early modern definitions of infertility, choosing instead to adopt set terms that fit comfortably with modern ideas. This article will highlight the difficulties surrounding the gender distinction of the terms ‘barrenness’ and ‘impotence’ during this period. Moreover, the discussion will examine the role of gender in diagnosing these disorders to sufferers. The article will argue that ideas of gender were more central to diagnosis of poor sexual health than to effectual treatment. Although it appears that barrenness and impotence were treated with separate remedies, many treatments were described as effectual for both sexes. Additionally, the ingredients used in such recipes were often sexual stimulants explained without reference to gender.

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