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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Digging Into the Mystery of History's Contraceptives and the Curse of Eve

Hello readers and lovers of history! Seeing as how I've just given birth to my third beautiful daughter...and as much as I love my little angels, I sincerely have contraception on the brain, lol. I thought I'd post an article I wrote a couple years ago for your enjoyment!

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

Red dog on a white horse, Aunt 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 for some. (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 making sure she didn't become with child, or 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, women would mix together concoctions, soak a handful of wool, vinegar was popular, 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. Everything 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, 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.*

Eliza Knight is the author of sizzling historical romance and time travel erotic romance. She runs the blogsite, History Undressed. Eliza is also a professional critiquer, workshop instructor and president of Celtic Hearts Romance Writers.

Upcomging workshop... will not be taught again until late 2010...

Dates: October 5, 2009 – October 30, 2009
Class: A Noble’s Life in Medieval Times
Instructor: Eliza Knight

Register: www.elizaknight.com/noblelife.aspx

Class Description:

Life in medieval times was so much different than the way we live today. When readers sit down with their favorite medieval historical romance, they are taken away to another time and place.

For most readers, this is where they learn about medieval times, and it is the duty of the author to be as authentic as possible. That being said, you don’t want your book to be a history lecture either, but to just flavor it enough.

This workshop will teach you how people, particularly nobles, lived in medieval times, in order for you to be truer to the era you write about. This is an open discussion workshop, questions and comments are welcome and encouraged. There are five lessons, each of which are broken down daily. This class provides photos, video links, research links, exercises and opportunities to share your work for critique. The lessons will be presented as follows:

Lesson One: The Medieval Castle
Lesson Two: Medieval Entertainments
Lesson Three: Day in the Life of a Medieval Lord and Lady
Lesson Four: Medieval Medicine
Lesson Five: Medieval Clothes


Sarah Simas said...

Eliza, I enjoy your posts! You're so funny. Thanks for another great read.


Paty Jager said...

I thought Delilah Marvelle was guesting when I read the title. LOL You two need to meet if you haven't already. She is also an expert on the history of contraceptives and sex. Fun blog!

Kris Kennedy said...


LOL--is it mere coincidence that you're blogging about contraceptives soon after giving birth to your third child? ;-)

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Sarah! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

Thanks Paty! We have met, she is a fabulous woman!!!

Lol, Kris! No coincidence!!! 3 is enough for me :)

Susan Macatee said...

Great post, Eliza! Some of those descriptive words and phrases had me chuckling.

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Mr. Happy's Business Suit? LOL

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks Susan and Gwynlyn!!! They certainly had me laughing too :)

Tanya Hanson said...

What a great post, Eliza. As much as I can't imagine life without contraceptives, life without tampons is cringe-worthy.

I laughed out loud at all the nicknames.


Eliza Knight said...

I'm with you Tanya!!! lol

etirv said...

What an interesting post, thank you, Eliza!

Sidhe said...

Educational and enjoyable. Couldn't ask for more, thanks!

Mary McCall said...

Eliza, I love the wit and wisdom of the posts I see from you. This is an interesting and informative article. I'm only sorry I found out about your class to take it. Will you be doing it again?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting--and sometimes hilarious--info! I taught contraceptive ed. in both college and high school (along with health) and even in the 1980's, there were young women who would run from the room when we got to diaphragms! Forget the guys--they were hopeless, esp. about condoms. One very ineffective method used in Victorian times and even later was douching. In the 2001 adaptation of The Forsyte Saga, Irene, the unhappy wife of the brutish Soames, prevents pregnancy using this and is surprisingly successful. Too bad it's fiction.