The Pantry Of “Few”
“I want to tell you a terrific story about oral contraception. I asked this girl to sleep with me and she said “no.”- These words have been once uttered by Woody Allen and afterwards started traveling across the seas and lands and they certainly managed to make many of us smile. I know for sure they made me smile and this is how my story starts. I’m referring to a story of how it all started in matters of contraception, in other words birth control.
We keep hearing lately long talks about how this planet of ours tends to get more and more crowded each day that goes by and how there will be a day when all natural resources this planet has are going to be exhausted if not used carefully. Does this prevent any of us from having sex? I do not think so. Viewed by many as one of the few pleasures that life brings to one, together with food, drinks and other culinary experiences sex comes to be included in our gossiping talks, and in these talks there happen to be some who take pride in their fertility as it happens to be the case of some women, others who boast on the number of women brought into bed as it happens to be the case of some men, yet sex still takes place sometimes resulting in off springs, other times prevented by means of birth control methods.
We all know by now the old mom and dad story and there is even an old saying stating that “Birds do it, bees do it, and men do it any old time.” Getting back to the crowded planet inhabited by us nowadays, it could be said that populations are growing in quite vast numbers and that may trigger some alarming reactions in many of our science people and not only. The question that seems to be on almost everyone’s lips brings together words in such a sentence like the following one: “is the world big enough to accommodate this many people?” Here is a funny approach to this alarming situation of population overgrowth “Somewhere on this globe, every ten seconds, there is a woman giving birth to a child. She must be found and stopped.” These rather funny yet sometimes real words come from a man named Sam Levinson. Wish to find some other funny approach to this rather alarming environmental issue? How about Cole’s axiom which states that “The sum of intelligence on the planet is a constant; the populations is growing.”? It may be nowadays’ case yet things were not always like this. And by saying this I do not mean to say that bees stopped doing that old thing carrying a taboo name for some, namely sex, but that in rather ancient times mortality used to be rather high and this because people used to accumulate some knowledge about the many herbs and plants provided to them by Mother Nature through test and trial, playing the role of some cobias.
I think it is rather easy for us those who have been born for quite a while now to speak about birth control, yet as Benny Hill himself quite funnily put it : “Have you noticed that all the people in favor of birth control are already born?” This comes to be truer than ever, yet most of us feel like being able to control when the whole motherhood or parenthood is going to mess with our lives. This is what most probably ancient people used to feel as well when making use of rather weird contraceptives.
Men and women have been using methods of contraception for thousands of years now. Funny or worrying enough some of these ancient contraception methods used to be as some used to say”ineffective at the best and deadly at the extreme.” Have you ever wondered which happens to be the oldest contraceptive method? I guess there have been numerous jokes on this one, yet it can be said without being mistaken that the oldest method of contraception comes to be abstinence. But since man kept being surrounded by temptations including here beautiful, magnificently shaped women, abstinence certainly became a great burden to many people. Even though proclaimed by many as being the best form of birth control, this happening even nowadays, I tend to envisage abstinence as a rather pretty challenging goal to be achieved with all the temptations surrounding us.
This seems to have been the case of some people in ancient times as well when looking back and deeming their efforts of coming up with all sorts of ingenious I dare say birth control methods. Even though some of these methods may be considered as being rather stupid and risky by many of those living nowadays, they come show the evolution man has experienced across the time. Or who knows! There may be only a slight sensation of evolution!
Looking back in time and trying to face the whole contraception stuff I managed to come across some rather weird contraceptives people have made use of along the times. Some come to be considered rather stunning, some reach a funny side and as such it could be said that contraceptives have written a history of their own. In the very beginnings, those wise women much evoked by many nowadays, used to hold the secret of birth or of birth prevention as well. There was a time when women used to make circulate various plants and herbal remedies that were supposed to be taken before or after ‘having committed the act of love’ as modern people would say trying to avoid the word sex. It could be thus said that even ancient women had their own ‘morning after pill’, even though this ‘pill’ could have been almost anything, even the most unexpected surrounding substance or thing. Most probably when this happened women were considered as being sometimes just a replaceable property and thus men probably tended to think that one or more of them could be sacrificed on the altar of carnal pleasure. I know not if this was every man’s case, because I did not live in those times, or perhaps I did and I cannot remember now because I must be referring to some past life by now. Yet, this is what most readings deemed to be the truth of those times.
Being that we are believed to be one of the fewest creatures on planet earth that apparently enjoy the act of sex, we came to wish for this to happen without necessarily procreating each time this happened. Therefore it could be said that contraceptives have made their way “in every culture at any time in human history”.
Do you happen to be interested in finding out some of the ordeals through which women were required to go just to make sure that they would not give birth to a child? It all happened in ancient time and I strongly advise you not to try this nowadays. It may prove rather risky to even experience the taste of some oral contraceptives that used to be highly demanded once. Not to mention here the fact that I think that it would be a real ordeal to try using some of the so called pessaries, meaning some substances or things that were to be placed inside the vagina just to make sure that this one would scream and scary away some of the ecstatic spermatozoon approaching the spot, if I am allowed to put things this way. Speaking about weird contraceptives I could not forget mentioning other ‘actions’ as well, some which at that time were believed to bring relief to the lady letting her experience only pleasure, if there happened to be any, and removing the child from the picture.
I guess that you’ve managed to see women in movies depicting life in old times drinking all sorts of drinks after having had sex and proclaiming that they do this just to avoid getting pregnant. I know I did see it in a movie and I could not wonder but what that drink must have tasted like because I saw that woman making wry faces. Later on I managed to read some things about these rather weird and various concoctions humanity has come up with just to prevent pregnancy. Wish to know how ingenious people used to be once? Or you may be interested in finding out what these miraculous liquid “pills” contained…What I could say to this is that “your wish is my command” and as such I could not let you wait being too curious. Now getting a little bit more serious, as serious as one can get when approaching such a subject, from an ancient by now perspective, I shall tell you that the range of things being used in these magical concoctions happened to be pretty vast covering such things as grains, arsenic, vinegar, lemon juice, oils, fruits, urine, strychnine and even animal parts. And if you think that the list of rather insane items ends here then this certainly tells about you that you have been an ignorant in matters of contraceptives up to now at least. The accused: Is there anything you have to say in your defense? Yes there certainly is something if you happen to be a gentleman who didn’t care about what was going on inside a woman’s body after experiencing probably some rather weird and sometimes unpleasant sensations when tasting all the above mentioned mixtures, as long as you did you part and said “Goodbye my dear. Do I know you?” Of course women themselves are not totally unstained because being no feminist I honestly think that nobody forced them to stay. Though in ancient times when this took place most women happened to be married, because in most cases tradition demanded this and there wasn’t almost anyone there to stand against tradition. At least this is what rumors have to say.
Going back to the rather weird, unusual to many of us so called ancient oral contraceptives I cannot but make reference to what I consider to be the weirdest oral contraceptive ever. Before introducing it to you I have one question: How far can one go just to make sure that a child isn’t born? I guess the answer depends highly on the era in which one lives, on the standards and knowledge one shares and on many other things. There was a time when people used to think that by drinking the water which Blacksmiths used to “cool heated metal” would prove to be highly effective in matters of contraception. By now we can all imagine what effects that water used to once have on women, yet certainly none of these effects had anything to do with pregnancy or birth control. It certainly managed to make women experience nausea and sometimes even brought them on the brink of death. Why? A possible answer may be one stating that it all happened because that supposedly miraculous water contained lead.
How about some lemon? Even though I guess it tastes better when ingested orally meaning by mouth, there was a time when most probably a very ingenious man thought about getting it inside the woman (this time not by mouth), and let it do its supposedly excellent contraceptive job. It looks to me like that half lemon, because as rumor has it these happened to be the required proportions had a pretty hard task there. Even so it was supposed to work as some sort of a modern diaphragm and it was even believed that the “acid in the citrus would kill the sperm.” I have to admit I was rather amused when I came across this phrase in my internet research. Here it is: “And the scent would be just like a freshly cleaned bathroom each and every time!” I guess I couldn’t have said it better than this.
Do you wish me to go on with this lemon stuff? Well you’d be surprised to find out that there was a time when lemons were not used just to make lemonade and the old saying stating that “If life gives you lemons make lemonades” would have sounded more like “If life gives you lemons use them as birth controls for afterwards douches or to spread some of the juice on a sponge to see what happens.” As you can well imagine one was not supposed to just look at this sponge but instead place it inside and afterwards expect that it would work the expected miracles. Rumor has it that even the great philanderer or as we’d call it skirt chaser Casanova is said to have made use of this supposedly miraculous birth control secret method. How did he use it? You can easily guess it if you picture the rind of half a lemon and a “blank”. And believe me this sounds better than what follows.
What could be worse than lemon juice? How about making use of a mixture which supposedly made use of mercury and bamboo tea? Does this sound tasty enough to you? I guess it didn’t need to be something tasty yet something that vanished any child’s crying on a mile distance. And by finding out about this mercury stuff you may as well wonder who made use of it. Ironically enough, it is said that Chinese people made use of this rather ancient by now method and some would probably start making jokes when hearing this. Why? Namely because it is well known by now that Chinese people seem to posses the secret of making the planet’s population grow making numerous beautiful and healthy children.
Yet I guess there is something tastier than mercury and bamboo tea, a secret recipe that comes from German folklore and that likewise is supposed to work miracles preventing pregnancy. It all goes down to a tea made from a mixture of such herbs as lavender, thyme, marjoram and parsley that the ladies needed to sip gracefully, yet making wry faces after having committed the sinful act (as some regard it even nowadays). Of course other teas some of them rather weird sounding were included on the list of ‘ward off pregnancy ingredients’. Do you happen to be curious to discover some of these rather miraculous teas? It looks to me that almost every nation had made its own miraculous tea: the Italians had theirs too. Probably they did not wish to steal the secret recipes coming from other nations. As such it is said that they used to enjoy a tea made from Willow leaves and mule’s hoof, just to ward off the slightest chance of having a baby. I have to admit that Canadians used a recipe that comes to taste and sound pretty awful to me. Being rather ingenious they used to prepare themselves a ‘cocktail’ consisting in some dried beaver testicles and some strong alcohol, probably wishing to provide some flavor to those testicles, don’t you think so? How did they prepare this magical potion? It is said that they simply brewed the beaver testicles in this strong alcohol. Was this effective as far as a future pregnancy was to be brought into discussion? I managed to read somewhere that these methods used to be “relatively ineffective”, yet there is no way I could tell you if this comes to be true or if things really worked as expected once women filled their stomach with this drink.
And just in case you tend to think that this seems and tastes rather strange wait to hear what Africans used to do or better said to use for contraception. Yet I feel an almost stringent need to warn you! It comes to be a quite disgusting mixture, one that I guess most of us would prefer not using it. Yet, as far as rumors go they favored this mixture made of foam originating from a camel’s mouth and some ‘delicious’ gunpowder.
Now that I guess I made it clear for each and everyone of you that ancient people made use of rather weird potions to avoid pregnancy I should perhaps introduce to you some other rather weird mixtures meant to work in the same direction, meaning the whole against-baby stuff. How about some castor oil? The very thought of tasting such an oil makes me experience nausea. The women in those times happened to be some really heroines in my opinion to taste this and other rather disgusting mixtures such as some quinine water which apparently needed nothing but the flavor provided by a soaked rusty nail, some gin with some iron “filings”, a mixture made from opium and rosemary and many other such things. Do you feel like tasting something somehow more consistent? If you do, then some ancient contraceptive recipes come to serve your wishes. How about a paste made from some mashed ants? Does this sound consistent enough to you? To me it sounds more than consistent and as such it needs to be accompanied by some tensey tea or some “tail hairs of the black-tailed deer” waiting to be “dissolved in bear fat”. I’d call this a pretty yummy contraceptive. How would you call it?
Yet, I guess you’ve had just enough about oral contraceptives, some of them really disgusting. How about reading (what a relief I was born these days) about some more ancient contraceptives, this time some that were meant to “become one with the lady” as some would say joking. There was a time when women used to have a rather intimate relationship with some rather “enchanting” mixtures. And just if you think that the oral ones were disgusting, wait till you see what this intimate contact supposed. By reading about all these supposedly miraculous contraceptives I could not hold myself from wondering what else was there left that could surprise women living in those times. I’d say that they’ve seen, tasted and felt the touch of almost anything. How about something like a mixture of crocodile dung and honey touching your inner self? There was a time when the Egyptians held a strong belief that crocodile dung needed to be sweetened with some honey so as to be able to face the vagina. Isn’t this rather funny? I have to admit that this is how I tend to choose to view things, even though I guess for the women using it at that time it was not funny at all but just a measure of protection against the frantic spermatozoon attacking their inner veil. Yet, according to Time Magazine, “the dung actually proved to be nothing but a helpful hand to a successful conception, because “it created an alkaline environment optimal for sperm survival”.
Reading about the above mentioned “sperm barriers” you may as well wonder what else was there to “make friends” with those ladies. Well, rumor has it that there were many more successful combinations to be tried such as pomegranate pulp, tobacco juice, linen rags, tampons of chopped grass, ginger, wads of oiled paper, “balls of bamboo tissue paper”, wool soaked in lemon juice or vinegar, eggs, linen grass, “sea sponges wrapped in silk and with a string attached and amazingly enough they even thought about making a woman meet the “strong grasp”, though I guess it was more of a touch or massage of blocks of wood. I could now cite what I managed to read somewhere “even the thought of this makes my legs instinctively clench together very tightly”. I guess the same thing happens to men when envisaging such a wooden block or a “sperm barrier” as I heard people called it, approaching their indispensables. When did all this wood stuff start being used? Most of you would be surprised to hear that it all happened in the 1920s because as far as evidences come to prove it this is the year in which these blocks came to be manufactured.
Being well known for its already famous beneficent properties olive oil didn’t fail being included in the list of much sought natural contraceptives. Therefore, as you can all see this oil can be used for a whole, and I really mean whole lot of purposes besides cooking or for salads. I omitted to ask though if there was talk about some virgin olive oil or …just any kind of olive oil. Though I guess even if it were “common” it proved to be better than any wood block, don’t you think so? If you are a lady then you probably willingly say Yes, yeti guess that if you are a guy you keep on smiling. Is there any broad smile on your face? No problem whatsoever if there is because my intention was to make each and every one of you smile.
How about making use of some plants to prevent any fertile “land”? Rumor has it that in ancient times women made full use of such herbs as Pennyroyal if they happened to live in Europe or North America, Queen Anne’s lace or in other words the wild carrot if they lived in areas like India, North America and the Middle East or pomegranate across all Europe. The last “cure” for fertility, namely pomegranate was even mentioned in the Greek myth of Persephone in Hades, where it is said that when Persephone ate six pomegranate kernels, the land happened to be infertile. So, does this necessarily mean that it was supposed to work miracles on women too and make them infertile? Apparently this is what people in those times believed and even more they recommended pomegranate for birth control. Yet, this time people did not need to eat this because I suppose that by doing this they made the earth infertile, but instead they needed to deposit the seeds inside “the pantry of pleasures”. I guess I am not wrong when calling the woman’s genitals a pantry because after all this is what all these herbs and fruits being used as “successful” or supposedly successful birth control “vaginal pills” come to sustain. Of course one more time I am ironic and I rather tend to adopt an amusing tone.
As for the use of pennyroyal, it is said that this could have killed a woman if not administered properly. Yet, I guess this would have made things easier and fertility wouldn’t have been invoked either because it would have been solved like…forever. Even though I guess there must be some left for the afterlife too…who knows? And just not to make you cry over this I have to soften things a little bit and tell you that if this herb did not manage to kill the woman using it then for sure, at times, it managed to damage her liver. Ehhhh…I must be exaggerating…actually it might have worked and I am an ignorant in matters of contraceptives. (I may be though…as far as all these ancient contraceptive methods come to prove it.)
As for Queen Anne’ s Lace, this herb continues to do wonders on women living in India as these ones are said to continue to chew on the dry seeds of this herb every now and then, whereas women in North Carolina “are known to swallow a teaspoonful of seeds with a glass of water.” These seeds must be really delicious if women indulge in such activities even nowadays. I admit: I never tasted them!
Wish to find out something about an herb which is said to have been the best contraceptive in those ancient times? If you do happen to be interested in such things then you have to be told that the name of this plant is Silphium, otherwise known under the name of Giant fennel and that you should no longer be looking for it because it is believed to have vanished on the path of time. Who said this worked? Well, apparently rumor goes that there happened to be a well known Roman physician called Soranus who advised women to make a mixture consisting in the juice of this plant and water and drink it once a month. He was in fact the one who supposedly said that “it not only prevents conception but also destroys anything existing.” Now ladies, would you have tried this if you read such words? I know I wouldn’t because the part with “destroys anything existing” would have scared me. Though I have to admit I probably lack courage or I do not like adventure…I have to fix this and decide which one of these two situations applies in my case.
And here comes the cherry on the top of the cake (though this time if you happen to be on a diet you should not worry mainly because this is not a fattening cake but instead one which happens to be an excellent contraceptive). Do you wish to know what can be included on the list of other interesting contraceptive methods? I have to admit they made me laugh to tears and afterwards made me worry about the health of the women who lived in those times. Yet while doing this various writers ensured me that those women were already dead by now and that in fact most of the already mentioned ingenious contraceptives managed not only to solve the problem of fertility but sometimes they also managed to shorten their lives with 10, maybe 20, 30, even 50 years. Going back on the path of contraceptives I have to add that a rather funny method that was supposed to “kill deposited sperm” was that of “sitting over a steaming pot of stewed onions”. I guess this managed not only to solve the matter of fertility or sperm being deposited, but it also managed to make them hot. I guess this is every man’s dream, am I right? Again I am ironic.
Who used to do this? Rumor has it that Jewish women used to have this brilliant idea in the 20th century, though they previously felt inspired by an 8th century Sanskrit text. And just if you feel like making some aerobic after having sex (all because you didn’t feel like getting pregnant) then you’d better know that there was a time when the Greeks believed that “by jumping backwards seven times” the matter of pregnancy came to be excluded and there was no risk left there. How about climbing some trees? I know you love nature, and that being a good environmentalist is all you’ve ever wished to be, so why not trying even this after making love? I guess in the case of ancient people the “after cigarette” came to be replaced by some tree climbing. It comes to be healthier and preferred over smoking. I guess that on this one they were right. At least if they were that unlucky as to get pregnant they didn’t risk their life but instead kept in good shape for the next physical activity, no matter which one this happened to be. And the most relaxing contraceptive method comes to be the one which included some hot baths. Now, I do not recommend you to try any of these contraceptives at home. I think it’s better to stick on the modern ones and leave aside the “ancient” ones.
Yet, I guess the physical activity part could do no harm to a woman but instead it could only manage to make her be in a good shape and maintain her attractiveness in the eyes of the man who takes a look or two at her.
Since it looks to me that I have been like endlessly debating the issue of contraceptives, weird ones this time and speaking about attractiveness and men I shall now end it all by quoting the words once uttered by Margaret Smith namely that “The best contraceptive is the word no-repeated frequently.”11