Thursday, February 27, 2014

Liza Researches Birth Control in the Victoria Era

Due to the topic, I will use a great deal of euphemisms in this blog. 
It it possible, along with your kids, you won't understand a word I say.


Today, I'm discussing the forms of Birth Control available to the men and women of the Victorian Era. 

There was, of course Coitus Interruptus which has been used since cavemen figured out the connection between having a good time and getting another mouth to feed.

Cave drawings in France (figures) dated 12-15000 years ago indicate animal skins were worn on the cave man's sword. We cannot be certain to their motivation for sheathing their sword. It could have been because it was freakin cold and fur pelts wrapped about their waist let in a draft from down under. 

Keep in mind, through most of our history, men wore wraps, long gowns and short skirts. A nice warm sheath might be prudent to prevent unmanly shrinkage.

However, we do know that later, condoms were created from animal guts. However, they were prone to tear and leak. 



Before the Black Plague, women were in charge of birth control, and they had concoctions I like to call spermacides to kill little sperms with acidic liquids before they could complete their swim upstream. 

They also had ways to get rid of babies, although most of the concoctions they swallowed were harmful to them as well. But who needs a liver, right?

But then in 1348, the Black Plague devastated the population. It could be a coincidence, but the burning of witches who made 'concoctions' began at this time when the country desperately needed to repopulate, not abort unwanted children.

In addition, the one to decide matters of birth control shifted to the men. Thus, the plague can be seen as a major attack on women's rights.

By the 18th century, the average woman was completely ignorant of all the ways she might prevent a pregnancy. So not surprisingly, the birth rates were extremely high in 18 & 19th centuries. But as I've noted in a prior blog, so were the death of children due to sanitation issues that arose as the population grew and new devices such as the baby bottle were created.

During the Victorian era, in England, an abortion was a costly business. The poor could pay 10-50 guineas, which was about 5% of their entire year's wage, and keep in mind, that wage barely met their survival needs. To lose 5% could mean the difference between life and death.

STD's became a serious problem during the puritanical Victorian era.  (Which is kind of funny if you think about it.)

Mid 19th century Vulcanized Rubber was invented. Besides nipples for the deadly baby bottles, it was also used to create the first 'rubbers'.  Yep, that's where the name came from. 

At first they were small caps that fit like a bonnet on the head of  the sword. A physician had to measure the little head so the bonnet fit just right. Unfortunately, all too often the bonnet, or capote, as it was called, would get lost in the cave. While I found many articles insisting the little bonnet were prone to wandering off into the cave by themselves, not one article said how they ever found their way out of the cave. 

I pray that doesn't mean some caves were crammed full of capotes.

Fortunately, for all the caves, the manufacturers soon realized a longer one size fits all would work better. 

One other oddity about the rubbers. They were marketed as 'reusable' so they were actually cheaper than the animal skin (gut casing) condoms that were still used to prevent getting diseases from the ladies working the docks. However, to the more expensive gut casing's credit: It provided more sensations. The rubber was as thick as a bicycle tire tube. 

Allow me to jump over the pond for a moment.
In the United States, between 1844-1873 the contraceptive industry flourished. In addition to selling condoms, traveling salesmen and women would go from town to town selling IUD's, cervical caps, sponges, diaphragms, and dousing syringes to better the lives of people. 

Some found this so offensive that in 1873 a law was passed in Congress forbidding the sale of all types of birth control. 

With such demand for their products, companies just re-branded their products and sold them as ways to promote 'feminine hygiene'.

It appears Congress's desire to control what may and may not be done to the female body is a long standing problem.

In my Victorian Mysteries, Vic, a young woman who had chosen to live her life as a Victorian man, falls in love with her employer, the renowned sleuth, Xavier Thorn. She is unaware of any way to stop pregnancies, so she refuses to allow anything to happen between her and Xavier, because it will change her in a manner which will ruin her life. (Euphemism for 'get her pregnant').

When Xavier finally divines what the bloody hell she means, he introduces her to the condom. Thankfully, by the 1890's, they exist in longer lengths so little bonnets need not get lost in caves anymore.

However, I must admit that Xavier & Vic aren't always faithful in their use of condom...

26 comments:

  1. Loved this post, Liza! Birth control has always been around, but, as you say, you have to use it in order for it to work. hope Vic and Xavier show more caution in the future! I tweeted.

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    1. Not enough...but that's all I'm saying since that is several books out. What struck me is after the black plague and the burning of all the women who knew how to stop unwanted births, commonly classified as witches at the time, how ignorant the 18th & 19th century were. Within 3 centuries they had removed a huge amount of knowledge that was once all women knew, either personally, or who to go to get their preventative medicine from.. It was as if a blanket of ignorance fell over our women.

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    2. Scary how society can lose so much knowledge in a short period of time. Men needed to be in control so that they could visit other women and not worry about them coming back with a baby claiming it belonged to them!

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  2. I chcukled everytime you mentioned putting the rubber on the sword. In a certain overpopulated - HIV filled third world country, the people going over to help with birth control and disease control - they showed how to put on a condom - explained what it was for and everyone was happy. But the women kept getting pregnant. When they finally figured out what was going on - to show to put on a condom they rolled it onto a broomstick - so the people in the village did the same.
    Great post.
    Tweeted.

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    1. That's what happens when you use inappropriate props like swords and caves... or broomsticks

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    2. I've heard a similar story about bananas. :)

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  3. It's funny (not haha) how long birth control has been around.

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    1. I still feel less knowledgeable than my past females women who long long ago knew of ways to acid bath the little sperm. I have no clue how I might do that. Thank God for pharmacies, or I would be in serious trouble.

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  4. As you alluded to, the animal gut condoms were not actually used for birth control, but for SDT's. Another feature of them is that they had to be soaked for a long period of time before use. Making it hard to use them in moments of unplanned passion, even if one did think of it. There are a few books out where the hero just whips out the animal gut condom and uses it. That would tear up the cave and, probably, the condom as well.

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    1. Since this was about birth control and not STD's, I left a great deal unsaid for another blog. But serious injustices occurred around STD's in the Victorian era. I believe the war between sexes began in the Victorian age and still goes on.

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  5. I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I read these blogs of yours. I know they are fantastic!

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    1. I advise laughing. Yes I did mention some bad things, but it's best to focus on the funny.

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  6. Love it!!! Nicely done...Yeah earlier birth control is pretty scary & silly - Renaissance time, having sex standing up was one method; another is insertion of wood, wool or things I dare not mention cuz so disgusting! Also, Victorian America - huge ads for mail-order abortion kits were in every newspaper! Then it was outlawed - along with all the rest you mention. Amazing but true...

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    1. I was trying to stay focused on Victorian England, but America was far more advanced in birth control. One of their abortion methods was to use high pressured water to dislodge the small fetus and 'wash it out' The ads claimed a young lady could return to work the very same day. Most of the devices we take for granted today began in America in the mid 1800's.

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  7. Thanks for this informative (and utterly hilarious) post! :)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Mary. You can check out the growing list of investigations here: http://www.lizaoconnor.com/p/blog-page_26.html

      I have no idea why it calls itself page 26. I call it Late Victorian Research Topics. I'll be doing automobiles next. There's a real shocker there. Something that has basically fallen out of our knowledge base.

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  8. Liza- you entertain me as well as inform me! I knew about the animal gut condoms but so much of the rest was new. I'm glad I didn't like back then but for so many reasons like a lack of feminine products for monthly issues, meat that wasn't in the local store, diseases, etc.

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    1. If we survive another century, I wonder how people will look back at us. They might see us in a horrific light, spraying poison on everything we eat...

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  9. Brilliant! Love it and would love to post it on my blog - with credits of course. Will you let me know? You can find me on FB. Thanks

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  10. Wow, that is fascinating information. You really did your research for this story. Looking forward to it. :-)

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  11. Wow, this is fascinating information. You really did your research. Looking forward to the story. :-)

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  12. Wow, that is fascinating information. You really did your research for this story. Looking forward to it. :-)

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    1. See how determine Jessica was to comment on my page. She kept trying and trying, not realizing after 3 days I must moderate.

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