A woman’s hell

Posted by on May 19, 2008 in women's health | 0 comments

Seems like menopause was viewed as a “woman’s hell” back in the 18th and 19th centuries. A time when the uterus was thrust into “tumultous state of utmost irritation and disorder.” Contributing to this were bad habits such as premature arousal of sexual desire, reading bad novels, and overly spicy and rich foods. Apparently, it was even exacerbated by lounging around all day and breathing the bad air in salons.

This throws my evening plans right out the window!

A woman’s hell? Medical perceptions of menopause in preindustrial Europe

Historical summary of views of menopause. First paper on this written in 1774, word “menopause” coined in 1812, and first popular women’s guidebooks on the subject in the early 1800s “sold out in a few months”. Early view was that with age the uterus became too weak to expel the vile humors of the menstrual fluid, which backed up to turn to fat, breast and uterine tumors, and many other diseases, creating a “woman’s hell”. Later view was that the menopause was more of a natural process (although a women should be at that point asexual), but that the problem was the perimenopause, when the uterus, felt connected to the nervous system, went through a “tumultuous state of utmost irritation and disorder” which was then transferred to the rest of the body. “She became more sensitive, agitated, and easily afflicted by disagreeable incidents; pleasure was indifferent to her; she became sad and easily grew upset against her children, her husband, those around her, sometimes yielding to violent outbursts.” It was also remarked that simple country women suffered few or no complaints compared to upper-class urban women, who “constantly exposed body and mind to all kinds of disturbances and irritations. The demands of social life, the premature arousal of sexual desire, masturbation and loose sexual mores, the reading of bad novels, the unnatural state of excitation caused by concerts and theater, dances and gambling, and overly rich and spicy food, the abuse of coffee, tea, tobacco, wine and spirits–all this created an unrelenting state of over-stimulation. It was made even worse by a life of idleness spent reclining on cushions and chaise lounges instead of attending to domestic duties, by an unwillingness to breast-feed, and by the bad air in overcrowded salons.”

1999 Bull Hist Med 73;3:404-28

Stolberg, M.

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