Roman contraceptives

I think those must have been some very bad demographers. Or ones swayed too much by the 80s hype regarding population explosions.

Because it is quite clear at this point that having a low disease rate, plentiful food, and prosperity in general LOWERS birth rates. Also, you don’t need an herb or condoms to accomplish this if one is determined. Just learn to pull out when your gf’s in the dangerous part of her cycle.

Anyway, I like this column. Just not this line of argument.

That’s the case now, with birth control abundant and economic prosperity no longer as closely tied to labor intensive endeavors like pre-modern agriculture.

It was not necessarily the case in earlier times. Qing China for example went through an enormous population boom in the late 17th and 18th centuries owing to the overall peace and prosperity of that period compared to the disruption of the late Ming ( also a number of other dovetailing effects like the culmination of centuries of agricultural refinement ).

Even if prosperity correlated with a slight drop in birthrates, which as I alluded would not necessarily be the case with the bulk of the peasant population, the increased survival rates of what children were born in those times of plenty, in a time when medical care was not a major determinant in childhood survival, would make up the difference and then some.

  • Tamerlane

A link to the column is appreciated. The one in question is this one: Did the ancient Romans use a natural herb for birth control?

Isn’t the pullingout of your gf method notorioulsy unreliable?

I think they have a word for couples that practice pulling it out as contraception. It is parents.

I think that this is at best poorly phrased, and at worst shows an inaccurate view of how the current Morning After Pill (Plan B) works.

The morning after pill is not an abortifacient. It prevents ovulation, it does not interfere with an existing pregnancy.

The MAP works by 1) Preventing ovulation 2) Making the egg’s cell walls less permeable, lessening the chance of conception and 3) should an egg be fertilized, preventing the egg from implanting in the uterine lining.

Medically, a pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg (blastocyst) implants in the uterine lining. Until there is implantation, **there is no pregnancy ** to be aborted.

Once the blastocyst implants and a pregnancy results, the MAP does nothing. If you’re already pregnant, the pregnancy will not be disrupted or aborted.

The article is talking about early abortifaecients, which are an entirely different kettle of fish.

I realize that the difference may seem minor, but it is the incorrect perception of Plan B as an abortifaecient that has caused so many problems for it.


FDA Q&A on Plan B:

And how were ancient Roman’s supposed to know when that was? Run down to the corner drugstore and pick up an ovulation kit? Besides, as others have pointed out, that’s not what I’d call a reliable method of contraception.

Pulling out is a lousy form of contraception, but for most women it’s not hard to tell when you’re fertile, if you just learn how to notice. Your cervix will be down lower than normal, open and soft to the touch. You’ll be excreting stretchy, almost rubber cementy cervical fluid you notice when you wipe after urinating, and your waking temperature will be noticably different. This last one might not have been a useful fertility sign for women before digital thermometers, but the other signs are, and are a good start for knowing when to avoid intercourse for those few days.

Sorry for the hijack, but I think it’s appalling that girls aren’t taught this along with how to use a condom and where to buy tampons. It’s just the easiest and most obvious thing everyone should learn about how her body works.

I think in the short term, you’d certainly get a bump in birth rates from plentiful food. In the long term, however, I believe human behaviour and attitudes change. It is programmed in by evolution to succumb to game theory and breed like rabbits when food must be fought for, but to calm down and not screw over the next generation when you have a succession of sustaining years. If you grow too fast but then prosperity comes down to ordinary levels, you’ll overshoot carrying capacity and get a downward bounce in population that’ll bring the numbers lower than when the whole thing started.

Of course you may ask “how does that fit in the picture of the individual’s goal of passing on his genes?” It doesn’t. But neither does altruism to strangers, guilt, and that preposterous self-imposed handicap on lying. Or nervousness. Self-sacraficial body language. Virtually ever single one of our, and of any animal’s, social instincts. Evolution doesn’t just work on the level of the a guy passing on his genes. It works on larger scales, since the social group and tribe is the real survival/progenator unit. This way it creates instincts which sacrafice the needs and interests of the individual for the sake of the group, and also sacrafices the whims of a single generation to bolster the long-term survivability of the tribe.

Perhaps pulling out doesn’t work. I don’t practice that technique and can’t speak for the amount of will it takes to comit to it (however, it does come down to will and there’s no such thing of, “oops i didn’t realize that was gonna happen”). However, there ARE things that people can do to reduce birthrates. The instincts of which I speak will weave their way into people’s minds subtly. They’ll affect the sense of duty and obligation you feel to abstain/pull out during fertility (same as they affect the sense of obligation you feel to wear a condom), and they might reduce the frequency of intercourse or the age at which it happens.

God, do arguments from definitions piss me off. Do you know how utterly ridiculous you’re being? You are allowed to argue For your definition. You are not allowed to assume it to be true, or expect that from everyong else. Definitions are always arbirtrary lines drawn on paper. Especially this one. Anyway, this isn’t about abortions. But damn is that a dumb argument.

Or, to phrase it more artfully, that line of reasoning doesn’t negate the assertion that life begins at conception, therefore ending the viability of a mated egg and sperm, whether they have caused “pregnancy” or not, may be an immoral act, depending upon your viewpoint regarding “life” and conception.

The ancient Romans practiced an interesting if unethical form of population control; infanticide. If a child was unwanted for whatever reason (especially by the Pater Familas) it could be exposed. It might luck out and get rescued by slavers (!) or if it was very lucky by adoptive parents. The ancient Greeks did this as well. The Carthagians sacrificed spare babies to Baal and Tanit. This is practiced in Asia today (especially on baby girls.)
Yes, it is awful, but I think that was the most prevelent form of population control (not, of course, birth control.)

Any cite foir either of these assertions?

Here is a site which describes child sacrifice as practised by the Carthaginians. In passing, it also mentions the Romans, as do plenty of other sites. Note that such sacrifices were made to appease Molech and Ashteroth rather than Baal and Tanit:

Here is a piece which briefly describes the fate of some Spartan children:

Other Greek city-states also practised the disposal of children:

The same piece continues:

It further comments that:

I assumed this was true also, until I did a little research and found this study, that shows that withdrawal, assuming it is practiced perfectly (always with drawing), is more effective (5% failure rate) than a diaphragm (6% failure rate), and considerably more effective than no birth control (85% failure rate)


I wonder what kind of implications all that infanticide would have for evolution. On the one hand you have selection at the point of birth (which may not be that effective since babies are hard to judge), on the other you have selection at the point of marriage (much more effective).

Which drawing should I use? Page 37 from The Joy of Sex ? :wink: