I’ve got my history nut hat on again. Today, I wanted to know about safe sex practices throughout history and while my list will showcase some, it will in no way be all techniques ever used.
Today we have condoms, birth control pills, diaphragms, and the list goes on and on. What I’m more interested in is how these items came about. I will say that people have had some wacky ideas, but with some scientific study, the results prove they were headed in the right direction. As with most inventions, pregnancy prevention has had multiple trials and errors. Thank goodness someone got it right. I’d really hate to use some of the following forms for prevention.
Let’s start in ancient Egypt. Ooo, my favorite. These people had it going on. Even today people marvel at the mathematical genius of the pyramids. Now whether they were correct about an afterlife and the journey they would take, well, that remains to be seen.
As early as 15,000 B.C., the Egyptians are believed to have been using some form of a condom. Around 1,000 B.C., they were using linen sheaths to protect from the spread of disease. It is interesting to note that as early at 3000 B.C., King Minos of Crete was using the bladders of goats to protect himself.
On a papyrus found between the legs of a mummy, called the Ebers Papyrus, dating back to 1550 B.C., it speaks about technique of soaking a pessary with donkey’s milk to prevent pregnancy. According to the papyrus, a pessary is dung mixed with fermenting leaves of the Acacia tree. Okay, ewwww.
Ancient Romans used pessaries as well, except they didn’t use dung. Instead, they used honey and sodium carbonate. The mixture congealed, creating a thick, sponge-like substance that blocked the cervix. Ah, you see an early cervical barrier method right there. Other forms of pessaries used natural sea sponges, tree sap, cotton and wool, and even opium!
Around 400 B.C., Hippocrates and friends, who seemed to know a little of something about everything, discussed a method of contraception at his school. A hollow tube filled with mutton fat was inserted into the cervix to keep it open and thus prevent pregnancy. Hello early IUD. Also noted by Hippocrates, was the use of Queen Anne’s Lace. The seeds were used for pregnancy prevention by blocking progesterone synthesis, thereby inhibiting implantation. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the use was most effective within eight hours of intercourse. Can we say Morning After Pill? There was only one slight problem outside of mild constipation. Queen Anne’s Lace was most often was confused with dangerous plants, like Hemlock and Water Hemlock. Oops.
During the 7th century, a flower that once grew abundantly and only in Northern Africa was hailed with its prevention qualities. Silphium is now extinct due to over harvesting. (A plant named Silphium still exists, but it is not the same plant. No one really knows the exact genus of the extinct plant from Africa.) The plant in antiquity was highly expensive and sought after. Exportation and continual use by the 3rd century left the plant completely extinct.
Do you ever wonder how Casanova could be the great lover he has always been believed to have been without a hoard of children following him around? Well, our great lover had a secret weapon….citric acid. It is said that he inserted half a lemon rind into women’s vaginas before sex. The rind not only acted as a barrier, but the lemon juice kicked sperm ass. Yes, an early diaphragm. He also employed the use of dried animal intestines. In his memoirs, he referred to them as, “dead skins”. Can I hear yuk? But hey, they apparently worked. Since animal intestine condoms were quite expensive, they were often re-used.
As our ravenous appetites for sex never slowed, nor did the search for effective pregnancy protection and protection against disease. Animal intestines were used for centuries, our early condoms. In England, they were know as “French Letters”. If you were thinking French Letters were love notes from a man confessing his love, you are wrong, early condoms baby!
Of course, the only real way to prevent pregnancy and the spread of disease is abstinence. For either protection from the male population or as a controlling device for wayward wives and daughters, a chastity belt could be used. Hmm, looks comfortable. Not. I will also mention they served double duty and helped prevent masturbation as well. Didn’t people have some very goofy ideas?
By 1844, our beloved inventor of vulcanized tires, Charles Goodyear, inadvertently paved the way for a whole new type of condom. From what I understand, the condoms were as thick as bicycle tires. Chew on that for a minute…
While people were making great strides in the prevention of pregnancy and disease, some wise asses in Congress decided to pass a law prohibiting the sale and distribution of such material. Cuz, you know, people won’t have sex without the devices. I’m not sure what they were thinking, but they did nothing more than to set us back and allow disease to run rampant. Margaret Sanger, known activist and founder of the first Planned Parenthood, was jailed for her attempt to spread the word about safe sex! The Comstock Law in 1873 shut down transport of prophylactics and pornographic materials. That law was in effect until 1965 when the Supreme Court decided that married couples had a right to prevention. By 1972, the right was given to unmarried couples.
In conclusion, I want you to think about the history behind the technology we use daily. I find that our journey in the sexual circle as repeating. The next time you take your birth control pill, or sheath your shaft, think of all those people in history that experimented with dung, to herbs, to animal intestines. Then, I want you to be grateful we live in the era we do and send a solemn thanks to those that came before us, invented, and endured so that we may live as comfortably as we do.
As I stated earlier, these are only a few of the methods used. There were so many more.