Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Monday, March 31, 2008

Digging into the Mystery of History's Contraceptives & the Curse of Eve

***Warning, some vulgar words are used in this post --- not for the faint of heart or underage crowd***

Red dog on a white horse, Auth Flo, monthly courses, little visitor, Bloody Mary, indisposed, the rag, vapours, time of the month, cramps, collywobbles, period, menstruation, no matter how you put it they all mean the same thing and it ain’t pretty.

When you read a book the most information they give you is the female was indisposed, or she has her monthly courses. In the case of nobles, the ladies maid checked the sheets for spots of the stuff. King’s had spies that would check to see if his wife was bleeding…I sure wouldn’t want anyone spying on me during that time of the month.

They didn’t have tampons and maxi-pads back then either, so what did they use when the Curse of Eve was upon them?

This is where the term “on the rag,” comes from…women used to have strips of cloth rags they would use during menstruation to catch the fluids. It was pretty simple, and not much different than now. Commercial sanitary napkins didn’t come around until the late 1800’s.

Tampons have been around as a medical device since the 1800’s as well, but they were used to stop the bleeding from bullet wounds. It wasn’t until around 1930 that the applicator and string were attached and began being marketed for feminine use.

Also it has been noted in several places that women of the lower classes would use nothing, and one woman was even quoted as saying how disgusting it was to bleed into her chemise day after day. Needless to say, lots of strong perfumes were used…as bathing wasn’t a regular practice. (shudder...)

A period meant a woman was fertile, and that she was not currently with child. It was also considered very unsanitary, made worse by the church. A woman who was experiencing her collywobbles, was encouraged to keep to herself. Her husband would be warned to stay away from her and she was not aloud to attend church.

Now that we know a little bit about a woman’s indisposition, what types of methods were used to make sure she kept on having it? I’m talking about contraception.

The Pill wasn’t invented to stop pregnancy until 1960, and while we know coitus interuptus was evident even in biblical times, there had to be more than that right? Of course! We are sexual beings and if we can think up something to keep us doing it, you know we will!

As far back as 1550 BC, woman would mix together concoctions, soak a handful of wool, and then place it in the vulva, the mixture would be quite effective. Other various soaked sponges have been used throughout history as well. Pessaries of elephant and crocodile dung were introduced in the second century…there is no way I would have put animal feces near any part of my body…

Another popular pessary in Victorian times was the wooden block. Ouch! It had concave sides and was inserted into the vagina. However in the 1930’s it was condemned as an instrument of torture…uh, you think?

There were also various herbal remedies that could be used as a drink to prevent pregnancy or work somewhat like the morning after pill.

Moving on to penis protectors, you know the condom. Every thing from animal intestines and skins to fine linens and cloths have been used to cover it up. Many of these sheaths needed to be soaked before use. Casanova was famously known for using condoms. The name condom supposedly comes from a Dr. Condom, who used to make cloth sheaths for King Charles II, however many believe this to be false.

The first rubber condom was made in the 1850’s, hence the term “rubbers.”

So now that I’ve informed you of the various methods of birth control, I leave you with this…

Wiener wrap, French tickler, French letter, armour, roadblock, pecker pack, protection, cervical sponge, Dutch cap, love glove, jism jacket, cock sock, jolly bag, Mr. Happy’s business suit, nightcap, sheath, shag bag, raincoat, life saver…

*Not all of the words above were in use throughout history, however some were too weird, unusual or funny for me not to share with you.*


Nicole North said...

Fascinating info, Eliza!! Thanks for sharing your indepth research!

Pat McDermott said...

Eliza, Your article is a lot different than the book my mother gave me to read when I was in fourth grade! Your research, as always, is fun to read as well as educational. Another interesting term for menstruation, a bit of Irish slang - "having the painters in"

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks Nicole!

Pat, I love that Irish slang! Thank you! Yes the book my mommy gave me was not nearly as informative either :)

Glad you enjoyed it!

Kimberly Killion said...

YOu have the most exciting blog with the most interesting topics. Thanks for all the great information!!!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Kimberly! I'm so glad you've enjoyed it!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Kimberly! I'm so glad you've enjoyed it!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Great post Eliza, it reminded me of the episode of Regency House party when the women were shown what women used during the Regency for that time of the month. I believe it involved some primative form of the sanitary belt that I remember you had to use before they started putting the adhesive strip on sanitary napkins. I think that freaked them out more than then the etiquette and restrictions of the period.

Holly Greenfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Holly Greenfield said...

My first comment was a giant typo. LOL!.

What a great post, Eliza. You've defintely dug deep and answered some of those 'How and what did they' questions.

Eliza Knight said...

lol, Holly! At least you could remove it!

I'm glad you liked it! It's been very informative & fun!

Malice Blackheart said...

LOL – I’d have to say “cock sock” is my personal favorite.
I believe there’s a lot to be said for mother nature’s original form of birth control – masturbation. And for those who believe “God” does not approve of us pleasuring ourselves, you might rebut with, “then why did God not make our arms shorter?”

Gerri said...

Interesting as always, Eliza!

Chicks of Characterization said...

Very Interesting as always. Eliza! Thanks so much for sharing

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Gerri & the chicks of characterization!

lol, Malice! Very true.