Clerical moralists looked upon sexual desire as the most dangerous of the passions, and most continued to preach an impractical and repressive rigorism throughout the eighteenth century. Their hatred of prostitution was ‘uncompromising and relentless’; an attitude shared in theory by the secular authorities, though in practice straightforward repression was impossible and prostitution was regulated and controlled, often by unofficial means. A shift in attitude is discernible in the Church's dealing with prostitutes, moving from the mere imposition of penance towards attempts at reform. The attitude of casuists to premarital sex was again theoretically severe. Illegitimacy rate rose during the century, but remained low outside the major cities as a result of social pressures as much as religious indoctrination. Clerical distrust of sexual desire extended to relationships within marriage, with much repetition of advice of the most austere kind. However, contraception, mostly by coitus interruptus, spread widely, starting among the elite and in the towns, and more liberal attitudes were beginning to become more prevalent in the late eighteenth century.
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