What methods did they use to curtail pregnancy? And what did they do if they did get pregnant?
Well, abortion was certainly happening in the 1800s.
Recipes I have heard from primitive birth control include the exclusive use of anal penetration and (hang on…) a large swatch of raw wool convered in pine tar inserted pre-coitus.
In addition, it looks like various plants were used pharmceutically (as well as vaginally).
There are a number of herbal preparations that can have the effect of inducing menstruation, or, if the user is pregnant, inducing abortion. I’d suspect that prostitutes would be knowledgeable about this stuff, and would probably take it the morning after turning a trick, to be on the safe side.
I recall a teacher saying that women used to use half of a lemon as a diaphragm.
I regret to this day that I was too shy to make the joke “It’s the only birth control with that great lymon taste!” (which was parodying the advertising slogan Sprite was using at the time).
I think they made their customers use the ol “pull out” method. But I could be wrong.
Second to Jonathan Chance and Indefatigable: Read John M. Riddle’s book Eve’s Herbs-A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West A fascinating look at a subject many people would not even suspect was at one time so widespread. Women had known this lore for millennia, before loss of habitat, social mores and other factors caused it to be all but lost. Herbs, they’re not just for dinner anymore…
Sit and drink pennyroyal tea
Distill the life that’s inside of me
This really would be a good question for Cecil. In reading about the sexual exploits of women through history, I’ve often wondered why many of them were not essentially pregnant 30 or more times before they were 40. Especially women at Roman orgies.
Anal sex is often cited as a common practice of Victorian England prostitutes, so much so that IIRC, in some cases it was difficult to find a woman who would do “normal” sex without an extra fee. However, this seems to be repudiated by my readings of anonymous works of the time, wherin ordinary vaginal sex seems to be the norm.
The piece I read (and I can’t recall where) regarding anal sex and Victorian England didn’t refer to it in a prostitution context but in a marital context. So while the prostitutes might be giving up the goods (so to speak) the married women would be having the ‘black furrow’ plowed instead.
Well, not thirty times; just a dozen times or so.
It needs to be kept in mind that
[li]Not every woman is fertile with every man[/li][li]Not every woman is fertile all the time[/li][li]Especially prior to more recent times, it is probable best to think of methods of “birth (actually, conception) inhibition” rather “birth control”. If we say that “birth control” means “used as directed, this method (drug, etc.) will cause at least a 99% reduction in pregnancies in women who use it”, a “birth inhibition” method might merely cause, say, a 70% percentage reduction. Breast-feeding is birth-inhibiting. So is a screaming baby in the hut. So is malnutrition (which is not necessarily cured by loading up on the peacock tongues).[/li][li]The sad truth is, a large number of women didn’t live until forty. I’m relying on memory here, so my numbers may not be accurate, but ISTR that birth, marriage, and death records from medieval France show that the average married woman then had five pregnancies over a period of fifteen years. After which, she was dead. Marriage at about 18-20 meant that she never saw 40.[/li][/list=1]
Gin was also a popular abortifact, hence its other appellation, “Mother’s ruin”.
Lemon is still used in many Third World countries.
Maybe some of them were just plain screwed.
“In days of old when Knights were bold and rubbers weren’t invented…”
Primitive condoms made of lamb membrane were available before rubber condoms, but were not always effective and of course depended upon the man being willing to use them.
Ditto Akatsukami’s comment about conception “inhibition”. If prostitutes combined whatever passed for diaphragms with post-coital douching, various semi-effective contraceptive herbs, avoiding the four or five riskiest days of the month and frequent recourse to abortion, they might have “only” four or five live births in a 20-year career. By the end of which they would usually be toothless hags at 40.
No, that was Dr. Bronner:
Not recommended! Cecil discussed this “method” once (and the Dr. to boot).
Or maybe the lemon works…
Jonathan Chance mentioned …
a large swatch of raw wool covered in pine tar inserted pre-coitus…
I agree that this would be a very effective method of birth control. Who would want to have sex when you had that thing to contend with ??
I seem to recall reading about an excavation done of an ancient Greek (or was it Roman?) whorehouse where lots of infant skeletons were found buried all over the place.
Prior to artificial insemination, that can pretty much be taken as a given