Letter: Sex before the Pill

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Sir: The underlying premise of K Haggett's diatribe about the supposed immorality of pregnancy outside marriage (letter, 11 January) is wholly false. Throughout almost the whole of human history, and in much of the Third World today, infant mortality rates have been so high that the fear has been of failing to rear an adult successor, not of having more children than one could support. It has repeatedly been demonstrated that, regardless of the introduction of effective contraception, fertility rates do not begin to fall until there has been a sustained reduction in infant mortality.

In Britain, until the introduction of welfare support for the elderly, a barren marriage, with no children to care for parents in old age, was a dreaded prospect. There are many alive today who can remember when to become too old to work meant entry to the workhouse if there was no family support. To allay such fears, it was common practice for a marriage not to be finalised until the bride-to-be was pregnant. If pregnancy failed to occur within a decent time the betrothal was dissolved without recrimination and both parties were free to seek a new partner.

Young people should be discouraged from promiscuity on compelling health grounds and because it is corrosive to self-respect. To go beyond this in a return to oppressive, hypocritical pseudo-morality would benefit no one.


Kettering, Northamptonshire