The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

In the Middle Ages, premature female death was most often associated with complications during childbirth. Newborns died even more often for various reasons. Modern contraceptives have reduced maternal mortality by two, and infant mortality by three times. But still, women in labor and newborns often die in countries where old methods of birth control are used. What are these methods and how are they dangerous?

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

The first images of objects remotely similar to modern condoms were found by archaeologists in France, in the Grotte de Combarelles cave. These rock paintings are at least 12-15 thousand years old. But it is very difficult to say exactly what the ancient artist meant, so it is customary to count the history of contraception since the times of Ancient Egypt.

The first reliable information about the use of condoms was discovered during the excavations of monuments of ancient Egypt. These barrier contraceptives resembled a sock and were made from the skin and intestines of domestic animals. They were made by craftsmen to order, were reusable and only very wealthy Egyptians could afford them.

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

Poorer people used improvised means, for example, crocodile droppings. Before sexual intercourse, women smeared the genitals from the inside with reptile feces, which made some sense. The litter had a viscous consistency and could delay the flow of sperm.

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

All these agents acted both due to their viscosity and destroying spermatozoa. But there was one more remedy — the most controversial. Magic enjoyed great confidence among the inhabitants of Egypt, and both men and women turned to priests and magicians to make them infertile.

Since crocodiles were a rarity in Europe, the women of ancient Greece and Rome had to use what was always at hand. Crocodile droppings replaced elephant manure, fortunately enough elephants were brought from across the sea. For the first time in the world, they began to use chemical compositions, such as copper sulphate, which was impregnated with cotton swabs. Poorer women used cedar oil instead of copper compounds.

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

A little later, bronze pessaries — rings of different shapes and diameters-came into fashion. They were used both to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and for various pathologies. But the most common contraceptives were various decoctions and extracts from herbs.

To cause a miscarriage, the girls drank a decoction of marsh mint. This remedy helped, but if there was an error in the dosage, it could cause severe poisoning and even death. Hippocrates, rightfully considered the father of modern medicine, also prescribed herbal remedies for unwanted pregnancies to his patients.

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

Among the controversial and frankly barbaric methods, there were also quite justified ones. The physician Soran of Ephesus advised to use vaginal candles made of ginger and pomegranate juice for protection. The second component, as modern scientists have found out, actually has a spermicidal effect.

Soran of Ephesus somewhat discredited himself in another way, completely stupid. The doctor advised women to squat down immediately after intercourse and sneeze as much as possible. The tension of the abdominal muscles that occurs at the time of sneezing should have pushed all the excess fluids out of the body.

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

Other means, such as cobwebs, were also used in the ancient Mediterranean. Some Greek women covered their genitals with cobwebs or made tampons out of it, trying to create a reliable barrier to fluid. It is not difficult to guess that the effectiveness of these methods of contraception was very low.

After baptism in Russia, it was customary to have as many children as God sent, so contraception was not particularly popular. 10-15 children were born in families, but if half of them survived, it was a great success.

But it also happened that the family was unable to feed another mouth, and therefore women were forced to look for ways of protection. As you know, in Russia, all ailments and negative conditions were treated with a bath. Unwanted pregnancy was no exception. After sexual intercourse, it was necessary to have a good steam bath and this should have acted as a contraceptive procedure.

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

Douching with their own urine was often used, which was unsafe, since it could cause diseases of the pelvic organs. A thousand years ago in Russia they knew that an acidic environment was unfavorable for the birth of a new life. Therefore, everything that was sour was used: sauerkraut, fermented milk, kvass and much more. Acidic foods were eaten and used for compresses.

Some healers advised the girls to eat bees. These insects contain a certain amount of acid, but its amount is so insignificant that even if you eat a whole handful of insects, the effect would be zero.

Breast-feeding was considered the easiest and safest way. Women believed that while they were feeding a child, they would not conceive a new one. This method of contraception was the most common reason for the birth of weather-related children in families.

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

By the XIX century, the methods of protection became more intricate. It was practiced, for example, the introduction of an engagement ring inside. It was necessary to do this immediately after giving birth, until the cervix shrank. It is easy to guess what consequences could be expected for a lady who placed a non-sterile metal product in the uterus.

In ancient Japan, not only women, but also men were protected. A few centuries ago, the Japanese knew that heat is the main enemy of the male reproductive function. Therefore, in order to make themselves temporarily infertile, samurai placed their genitals in water heated to 40 degrees every day for a few minutes.

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

Geisha used barrier agents to protect against unwanted pregnancy by placing bamboo paper in the vagina. Less often, Japanese women used herbal decoctions and various ointments. Most contraceptives fell into the The land of the rising sun from across the sea, from neighboring China. Healers from The Celestial Empire had an unbreakable authority, and the means recommended by them were considered the pinnacle of scientific thought.

Meanwhile, Chinese medicine has not always been effective and safe. In ancient China, they were very fond of using mercury. Lubrication of the vagina with an ointment made of cedar oil and toxic metal was considered the pinnacle of medical thought and only wealthy ladies could afford such a procedure. It is difficult to even guess how many women went to the other world, following this advice.

The world history of contraception: cobwebs, elephant dung and other effective means

A cheaper and safer method was used in poor families. Alum, cedar resin and pomegranate juice were mixed there and fabric tampons were made with this composition. A particularly sophisticated method practiced by the nobility was the introduction of silver balls into the uterus. This procedure was designed to prevent the formation of the fetus, but in fact it was more often dangerous for the health of a woman than effective.

In the modern world, there are hundreds of methods of contraception using different methods of exposure. Thanks to them, 22 million children are prevented from being born every year, which could simultaneously populate Moscow and New York. At the same time, there is no need for 25 million abortions, and maternal mortality is reduced by 150 thousand cases per year.

Earlier, when medicine was primitive and accessible only to a select few, women suffered not only because of barbaric contraception, but also because of the dangerous advice of "specialists" during pregnancy.

Keywords: Ancient world | Ancient russia | Contraceptives | Control | Crocodiles

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