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Birth Control in History

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Holly Tucker
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Birth Control in History

Post by Holly Tucker » Thu October 23rd, 2008, 3:57 pm

Catherine's guest post today on my blog got me thinking...

What do we know about birth control over the ages? Anyone have some good nonfiction book recommendations? Any memorable methods from your favorite historical fiction books?

Here are Catherine's comments on 18th century birth control

I like John Riddle, Eve's Herbs: History of Conception and Abortion in the West Need some other suggestions!!!

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Post by Vanessa » Thu October 23rd, 2008, 4:33 pm

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber - I think they called it 'douching'. I can't see how it could be particularly effective but I suppose it must've been in Sugar's, the main character, case. Sounded rather a rigmarole to me!
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Post by annis » Thu October 23rd, 2008, 4:42 pm

Shyama Perera "Taking Precautions: an intimate history of birth control"

<Taking Precautions delves into a subject that has touched almost all adult lives at some point or another and continues to fascinate and perplex simultaneously: birth control. Taking Precautions gives a fascinating account of the often imaginative ways in which humans throughout history have tried to prevent themselves from propagating the race. These range from crocodile dung pessaries, diaphragms made from lemon halves and the linen condoms pioneered by the Italian anatomist Falloppio in the 16th century, through to the breakthrough of the Pill - and the women's liberation it represented - in the 1960s and beyond to the 21st century. Although the methods of today are relatively sophisticated, a foolproof form of contraception has yet to be found if the number of unplanned pregnancies each year is anything to go by. With fascinating illustrations, Taking Precautions is an engrossing, thorough, down-to-earth and amusing history of an often taboo subject.>

The thought of using crocodile dung pessaries would have been enough to inspire me to abstinence :(
Last edited by annis on Thu October 23rd, 2008, 6:12 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Post by Ludmilla » Thu October 23rd, 2008, 5:08 pm

There's a chapter in the NF book, Ancient Inventions, by Peter James and Nick Thorpe that includes contraception (under the chapter about Sex Life). Maybe you remember the A&E special based on book? My copy of the book is the original edition, published in the mid 90s -- not sure if they've added to it over time.

I'm sure I have encountered some unusual forms of contraception in my historical novel reading, but I'm drawing a blank.

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Post by Volgadon » Thu October 23rd, 2008, 8:26 pm

A common way of getting rid of unwanted pregnancies was for the woman to work very hard, or ride horses, if circumstances allowed.

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Post by Divia » Thu October 23rd, 2008, 9:01 pm

Herbs...there are some herbs becuase I was looking for them cause of the book I'm writing. I think I checked out abortion and herbs and found a few interesting ones.

Douching was popular as well.

During the Victorian Era the middle class sometimes had smaller numbers of children than rural. Obviously they either knew a trick or they just didnt have sex. I'd be interested to know what the deal was there.
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Post by EC2 » Thu October 23rd, 2008, 10:32 pm

The Trotula has all sorts of interesting things to say on birth control - often worded in a backwards way because birth control was a sin. 'If you would conceive, do not do this,' type of thing.
I've just written a scene in the current WIP where women are gathered round in a sewing circle with their menfolk well out of the way, having a gossip about preventatives. A pair of weasel testicles tied in a bag around the neck was supposed to be quite effective. See foot of my blog post here for full instructions!
http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwic ... oreal.html
There's also a companion article with advice on how to conceive. http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwic ... again.html
The Trotula also advises women who do not want to conceive due to problems in previous labours to put grains of caper spurge or barley into the afterbirth equal to the number of years they wished to remain barren.
I read somewhere else while researching that putting lettuce leaves under one's husband's pillow was a preventative in that it ummm.... made him unable to rise to the occasion!
There are hints that herbs with sour properties might be used by the woman, or the man beforehand to make the woman's passage less receptive to sperm, but the references I have seen have been somewhat vague. Good for a writer though :)
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Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

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Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal


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Post by Telynor » Thu October 23rd, 2008, 10:58 pm

I've heard of the lemon halves as diaphrams before -- looking at modern lemons, you would think it impossible, but then medieval versions of fruits were much smaller than today's varieties. Also peach pits were said to be good blockers. I remember SKP mentioning a jasper stone held in the hand was good for preventing conception.

Thinking about the Victorians, I think a lot of it had to do with the custom of having separate bedrooms for husbands and wives, if it could be afforded. I know that by the Regency period there were condoms made of sheepskin, attached by ribbons. I think I still have a book about Medieval sexual customs and birth control around here someplace -- it has a hysterical flowchart about the mental twists and turns about how to have sex if you were following all of the rules laid down by the Catholic church. All of the questions lead to a center box stating STOP! SIN! and the final question, if answered properly, reads: Go on and do it, but try to remember that it is just for conceiving and try not to enjoy it too much!

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Post by Amanda » Fri October 24th, 2008, 1:48 am

Fiction wise:

In The Fiery Cross, Claire has given some women tansy oil, and some crushed up seed that an Indian woman showed her.

In Nefertiti, Mutny gives acacia to women that don't wish to conceive.

I remember reading for an assignment in univeristy (about IUDs and infections etc), that the caravan traders would insert stones in a camels uterus to prevent her conceiving.

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Post by diamondlil » Fri October 24th, 2008, 2:05 am

I've seen something about stones being used to prevent conception but I can't remember where.
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