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Birth Control's Bizarre Past

Today's women may complain about remembering to take a tiny pill. In the bizarre past, birth control methods were much more unpleasant.

By Filthy StaffPublished 8 years ago 9 min read

Casanova, throughout his long and active life in and out of the feather beds of Europe, was especially fond of his golden balls. No, we’re not referencing his genitals, though he did probably hold them to a golden esteem. Even so great a lover as Casanova had to contend with the mundane technicalities of contraception, and the balls he cherished were solid gold and 18 mm in diameter. Working on the theory that if the seed did not come in contact with the egg there would be nothing to regret, he gingerly positioned one of these elegant obstacles (aka diaphragms) inside his breathless lady lover. In the bizarre history of Casanova, he is known to have fathered more than a handful of golden children, and his birth control methods, often referred to as contraceptive ingenuity, would seem to have been less than reliable. But at least it was long-lasting. One golden ball was reported to have been in regular use for more than 15 years. In terms of his initial investment amortized over his sustained sexual prowess, he certainly got his money's worth.

The inventiveness of Casanova is but one instance of the resourcefulness of earlier civilizations in coping with what a course in Sex Ed. taught us to call birth control. What did they do when the lights went out? For many centuries the lack of female desire was considered a relatively safe sign that the woman would not conceive.

Post-Sex Prevention Techniques

via Wikipedia

Kong Fou, the ancient Chinese writer, wrote that to prevent conception the woman should "at the moment of ejaculation draw a deep breath and think of other things." Today we know better, for if all the women who remained passive were to remain barren, the birth rate would probably be reduced by half.

Popular too were violent post-coital movements on the part of the unfortunate female. Observing that coughing and sneezing produced violent abdominal spasms, the physicians of the day thought these same spasms might reject the sperm. Sonarus, the ancient Hebrew scholar, wrote: "The woman—immediately after, must get up quickly, sit in a squatting position and sneeze several times." Avicenna, almost 100 years later, had a more dramatic variation: "The woman should rise up when coitus is finished and then take several jumps backwards, sneezing at the same time and endeavoring to jump higher each time." He further warned: "Great care must be taken in remembering to jump backwards, to dislodge the sperm for jumping forwards will cause the sperm to remain where it is." And Rhazes, an Islamic physician in 923 A.D., wrote that "to prevent conception she should sit on the tips of her toes and push at her navel with her thumbs. It would help if she smelled foul odors."

Ancient Contraception

via Science Museum

In 1550 B.C., the Egyptians found that a primitive pessary of acacia and honey would prevent conception. This worked because acacia, as it ferments, breaks down into lactic acid—an effective spermicide that is still used today as a base for many contraceptive foams and creams. But early pessaries were not just limited to acacia and honey. Crocodile dung mixed with natron (native sodium carbonate) was also popular among the Egyptians. In India, where there was a shortage of crocodiles (and consequently, crocodile dung), elephant feces were used as a replacement. In the 10th century, Ali Iba Abbas prescribed a pessary of salt and oil in The Royal Book. All of these worked reasonably well because salt, like lactic acid, is an effective spermicide, lethal to living sperm in doses as small as eight parts to 100.

Cleopatra (who clearly had a need for effective birth control) was an expert on pessaries and was permitted by the court physician to prescribe them for other women. In the second century, Sonarus (who seems to have had his fingers in every contraceptive pie) described a complete range of plugs, tampons and suppositories in his Gynaecology. It was the most complete list to be assembled for the next 17 centuries.

Most of the early pessaries had a gummy substance as a base—honey, cedar gum, and oil were all frequently used—and other ingredients were thrown in at the discretion of the inventor. In 1200 A.D., Arabian pharmacologists told women to "take the testicle of the wolf, and it must be the right testicle. Rub it with oil, wrap it in wool, and insert it into the vagina." The Aztecs in 1552 had their own brand of pessary: "And you shall push into the vulva the crushed herb of the calabash or cucurbita root and eagle’s excrement." One of the more drastic—and fatal—plugs was that used by the women of the Basai Basin in Central Africa. They used finely cut grass as a pack which they jammed inside. Unfortunately, it was liable to form a solid, tortuous plug which stopped the normal body functions. It killed as many women as it saved from having children.


via Hopes & Fears

Fumigation and douches used to be relied on heavily for contraception and if properly performed, they were almost 100 percent effective. But it involved a ritual which most women weren’t prepared—or equipped—to undergo. In 1550 B.C., the Egyptians described a typical method. The woman would prepare by squatting on an ornate cooker with a "horn" inside her. The cooker had a small fire in it and the resulting fumes and steam (usually of charcoal and wax) were released through the horn. This dilated the vagina and penetrated it with sperm-killing fumes and heat. For this to be effective, sex would have to follow immediately, and the woman also had to submit to a douche afterwards, using any one of the known spermicides. A refined variation was a wine-and-garlic douche which, though not as effective as the other means, certainly left the tantalizing fragrance of garlic in an unlikely place. Douching today, never completely reliable, is still a much-used method of contraception. Happily, garlic and wine are out.

Male Contraception

via Wikipedia

In South African tribes, fathers of too many children were crudely, and sometimes fatally, sterilized, and among the Australian bush tribes an operation known as the "mika" was performed, not only on overly productive fathers, but on young layabouts as well. The operation (performed without any kind of anesthetic and with sharpened stones as instruments) consisted of slitting the urethra so that the semen would be diverted and never reach its natural target. (The Koolpi tribe of Africa practiced a similar operation on the indolent and the physically handicapped with a piece of sharpened flint). Missionaries in Australia described how a suitably fashioned kangaroo bone was introduced into the urethra at the base of the scrotum and pushed forward until it emerged near the glans. Then a "knife" made of stone or quartz was used to strip the urethra open lengthwise. A piece of bark was put into the slit to keep it from reopening. The men who had suffered this operation were easily recognized said the same missionaries, as they stood with their legs apart while urinating.

In Roman times, a form of disfiguration was practiced called "infibulation" (from the Roman meaning "into a clasp"). This consisted of pulling the foreskin forward and inserting a brass or copper ring into it like an earring. This drastic solution prevented conception simply by making sexual intercourse impossible. In Germany in 1820, Herr Weinhold suggested the same treatment for all young men to curb the high rate of illegitimacy. He advocated a seal and a date on the ring, and when the young man was financially capable of supporting a wife and children the ring was to be removed. The plan was never adopted, which will surprise no one.

Surgical Birth Control

via Wikipedia

Generally, however, it has been the woman who has suffered most from experimental doctoring. In the Malay Archipelago, the ovaries were removed to prevent conception, and as a further safeguard the uterus was artificially turned over backwards by massage. As late as 1887, a form of this was still practiced in the Dutch East Indies. The uterus was manipulated by constant massage until it eventually bent backwards, causing a "kink" in the neck and preventing the sperm from coming into contact with the ovum. When the girl was ready to bear children, the uterus was massaged back into place. The woman could then normally become pregnant.

The natives of Queensland in 1881 still removed the ovaries from selected young girls before they reached puberty. These girls were intended as prostitutes for the young warriors, and because their secondary sex characteristics failed to develop, the girls soon began to resemble the young men they were meant to serve. They were only outwardly identifiable by the long scar on their abdomen.

Pulling Out

via Wikipedia

Of course, the oldest method of birth control, still practiced today, is coitus interruptus. A variation of this love-me-but-leave-me practice allegedly used by the Oneida Community was called coitus reservatus. It simply meant that the man reserved his climax: he would think of something less erotic (politics, baseball, or his wife, for example) and would let his climax subside while still retaining his erection. Sexual intercourse could theoretically go on for hours: the woman reaching several climaxes, the man repeatedly reserving his, depending on his willpower and his staying power. It is said that the Oneida Community relied on this as the sole means of birth control, and they were welcome to it.

Another variation of coitus reservatus is used in the Orient to heighten sexual pleasure. The man withdraws at the crucial moment and applies ice-cold water to his genitals. After performing this rigmarole five or six times, during which time the woman is more than satiated, the male climax is allowed to proceed. Having been stifled so long by the cold water, the sensation is said to be like an explosion.

Primitive Condoms

via Science Museum

From the obscure, and probably mythical Colonel Condom came the name for one of mankind's most practical birth-control devices, the sheath. The idea obviously goes back along way as a forerunner was used by the Djukas, a tribe in South Africa, where the women inserted a pod (similar to the milkweed). Alas this female sheath. while possibly effective virtually removed any pleasure from the art of making love. In ancient and imperial, Rome, the first condoms were made from the bladders of animals and were used for the prevention of infection, rather than for contraception. The animal bladders, carefully cleaned, processed and dusted with a fine, white powder were even used as a badge of rank, each rank being a different color. The caecum of the lamb and sheep were preferred, as they were thin, permitted the maximum sensitivity, and had high tensile strength. These condoms were used over and over and were kept in a vase of alcohol by the bedside.

The Chinese, at about the same time, used oiled silk cloth as a type of condom. And the Japanese, being the ingenious people they are went a step further and developed the kabuta-gata, a "helmet" made of tortoise shell and leather. It was used not only as a contraceptive, but as an aid to impotence.

One of the earliest written descriptions of an animal bladder condom was made by Fallopius in 1564, and in 1597 Hercules Saxo described another kind made of linen, soaked in a salt solution, and allowed to dry. In 1953, the British Medical Journal reported that an old metal box had been opened to reveal of all things, condoms dating back to 1790. These were made of a seamless animal membrane and were in packets of eight. There was an outer wrapper of blue paper and an inner wrapper of white paper, and they were preserved in a kind of talcum powder. They were 190 mm long (about 7 ½ inches), 60 mm in diameter, and 0.38 mm in thickness, almost half as thin as the average condom today. The edge of the open end was turned over and roughly stitched with cotton thread to form a hem through which a ribbon of coloured silk was threaded.

Colored ribbons seem to have been the thing at the time as they were mentioned in the New Description of Merryland (1741), saying “About the bottom is generally bound round with a scarlet ribbon for ornament". Indeed, with the advent of easily obtainable condoms, the romance of seduction took on hidden meanings in literature of that period. Casanova describes condoms in his busting-out-all-over Memoires.

Sometimes described as the "soft answer to the scurrilous satyr," the condom was a breakthrough (no pun intended) in practical contraception. And oddly enough, women were the first retailers of these strange and wonderful devices. A Mrs. Phillips was the most successful merchant, advertising to her customers to come to the sign of the Green Canister on Half Moon Street, presumably to ask for a packet of eight.

Today, for the average sexually active individual, birth control is not much of a problem at all. Like the headache used to be, birth control can be effectively solved by simply taking a pill regularly or even after sex with Plan B.

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Filthy Staff

A group of inappropriate, unconventional & disruptive professionals. Some are women, some are men, some are straight, some are gay. All are Filthy.

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