University of Hertfordshire

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-19
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Early online date16 Mar 2011
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


Throughout the early modern period, medical writers described a plethora of remedies designed to provoke menstruation. This article will address the close relationship these substances had with provokers of lust. Historians have often viewed emmenagogues as covert expressions of abortive drugs. While they acknowledge that some women utilised these treatments for their intended purpose, to restore a regular menstrual cycle, they have more frequently asserted that they were more likely to be employed to remove an unwanted pregnancy. This article asserts that this understanding is in need of reappraisal and argues that these substances can be viewed as a key component of early modern fertility and sexual health care. This article demonstrates that provokers of venery and emmenagogues shared similar humoral virtues and that many compound remedies designed to restore purgation contained potent aphrodisiacs. By promoting a healthy menstrual cycle these substances ensured that the female reproductive system was fecund.

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