Today is World Population Day.
Clearly something isn’t working.
So here’s a quick history of contraception – hopefully we’ll find a way to do it better in the future than we did in the past.
WHAT A CROC
Some people assume contraceptive devices are a relatively new invention but this is not true. For example, the first diaphragm appeared in countries around the Mediterranean in the sixth century. Women used half a pomegranate with the flesh removed.
Other solutions to the problem included; pederasty, zoophilia, infanticide, institutional homosexuality, anal intercourse and abstinence. Clearly, better alternatives were needed.
In fact the early Egyptians had already discovered a remedy. The Kahun Papyrus, which has been dated to around 1900 BC, recommended that a mixture of crocodile dung and a mysterious paste known as auyt should be inserted into the vagina before sex.
It is not clear whether this was supposed to be a diaphragm or a deterrent.
No wonder Moses got his people out of there.
WHEN IN ROME
Two thousand years later the state of the art, if you can call it that, was a potion made from snail’s excrement mixed with oil and wine. Sounds like the soup my Aunt Poppy used to make.
The Roman physician, Pliny, recommended that intending lovers should put the blood and testicles of a rooster under the bed. He did not explain exactly how this would prevent pregnancy – or how to placate the irate motel manager the next morning.
One of Pliny’s contemporaries, Soranus – I am not making this up – had this advice: ‘The woman ought, during coitus when the man ejaculates … hold her breath with her body drawn back a little so the semen cannot penetrate the mouth of the uterus, then get up and sit with her knees bent, and in this position provoke sneezes.’
THANK HEAVEN FOR LITTLE BOYS
The Ancient Greeks searched for an alternative to snail excrement and sneezing – as you would. Unfortunately, it was called pederasty. In the cradle of civilization loving little boys was no crime; it was a form of birth control that indeed became a social currency.
For example, in Aristophanes’ play, The Birds, one character remarks to another: ‘Well, this is a fine state of affairs, you damned desperado! You meet my son just as he comes out of the gymnasium, all fresh from the bath, and you don’t kiss him, you don’t say a word to him, you don’t hug him, you don’t feel his balls! And you’re supposed to be a friend of ours!’
LOVE POTION NUMBER ONE MILLION AND NINE
Elsewhere in the world, where the men remained stubbornly heterosexual, alchemists were hard at work trying to find a potion that would do the job. The magic formula – which later became commonly known as The Pill – eluded them.
An ancient Hebrew recipe consisted of Alexandrian gum, liquid alum, garden crocus and three cups of wine. Known as the ‘cup of roots’ it was totally useless as a contraceptive and the three cups of wine probably led to more pregnancies than it prevented.
Native American tribes devised their own herbal remedies. The Navajos drank a tea of ragleaf bahia; while the Shoshoni drank crushed stone seed roots. During the eighteenth century African-American slaves developed a concoction made from gunpowder and milk. Perhaps they thought it would go boom in the womb.
None of these brews were particularly effective which is perhaps why the Yuma Indians required their women to urinate regularly on ant hills. They had plenty of babies but no trouble with ants …
In Part Two of WHERE THERE’S A WOMB, next week, we look at the methods employed by the Apaches, the Romanic gypsies and Sylvester Stallone.
But right now I’m headed to London for the weekend to enjoy the birthday present my own contribution to world population growth – my two beautiful daughters – got me for my birthday … tickets to see the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park.
See you (Ruby) Tuesday!
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