Miko Author

Lysol’s Surprising Sexual History

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I did lots of driving over winter break, often 5-10 hours at a time. In that time, I had the radio on so I listened to lots of ads.

Lots and lots of ads.

In between the car dealership and fast food ads I kept hearing a weight loss ad that guaranteed a flat belly and would empty your gut of tons of toxic sludge. After hearing it a few hundred times, my brain started analyzing what I was hearing; you can’t physically have “tons” of undigested food in your belly, especially not toxic sludge, and someone couldn’t be so bloated it looks like belly fat. Is this legit? If not, why are they allowed to advertise? My brain started thinking about truth in advertising. Then I decided to write a post about one piece of historical non-truth in advertising that rolled around in my head on the drive back, Lysol’s use as a douche.

Let that roll around in your brain for a bit. Lysol. Douche.

A while ago I had stumbled upon old ads for Lysol as an effective douche, its cleansing power capable of saving marriages. I went back into the history of Lysol to figure out how this came about and found another horrifying bit of Lysol trivia. It was also used as birth control.

Now let that thought sink in. Lysol. Birth. Control.

I hadn’t realized that Lysol to was linked to birth control during some of the other research I had done earlier this year concerning the Comstock Act and Margaret Sanger. The Lysol ads preyed on the public’s self-esteem by making them self-conscious enough to purchase their product, as most advertising is wont to do. But these ads have an even scarier undertone, the fears of women living at a time with no reliable or affordable birth control nor the means to educate themselves about what was available to them.

When I went to Lysol’s “Our History” page, I first noticed the tagline “Over a Century of Healthing.” Health? Is this a word? Apparently, it’s not a word but sort of a thing. Thanks to Google for providing me the first search hit that included a woman who referenced Lysol and Healthing. She was part of Lysol’s Healthing initiative and stated that it was, indeed, a word. A word invented for a health initiative is not really a word, especially since it’s not even in the dictionary. It was Lysol’s way of describing that you’re not just cleaning when you disinfect with Lysol, you’re healthing since you are decreasing germs and the spread of infection. But enough of the grammar rant, back to the history.

The Lysol’s history page only mentioned how it has helped families do more for health since 1889 such as ending a cholera epidemic, in 1918 was the first effective means of fighting the flu, and in 1930 was introduced to drug stores and hospitals. No mention of douching but I don’t blame them. Lysol is an effective germ-killing cleaner, one that I use in my own household, and would I imagine they would love to distance themselves from that dubious era in their advertising. Indeed, Lysol was introduced by Dr. Gustav Raupenstrauch to help end a cholera epidemic in Germany and used in 1918 to combat the Spanish Flu pandemic.

The product originated in Germany, migrated to Great Britain then landed in America. A combination of cresol and soap (most likely castor oil soap) made Lysol a powerful cleaner but also a toxic skin irritant that can cause blistering and burns. Despite this, starting in the 1920’s an extensive ad campaign was introduced suggesting diluted Lysol as an essential part of feminine hygiene.

Ads showed women with concerned expressions on their faces and copy that talked about the marital distress caused by lack of proper hygiene. Lysol cured everything from fatigue to foul odor, along with being the answer to your husband’s lack of interest and avoidance of intimacy. Why even the elegant women of Berlin used it! Lysol was the perfect antiseptic for marriage hygiene.

Yep, the ad actually says marriage hygiene.

There was even a booklet available to teach you all about how to use Lysol since “There is so much misinformation about feminine hygiene.” The photo in the ad shows a proper Margaret Dumont-like mother offering the booklet to her attitudinal teen flapper daughter. Over the years the ads were geared towards women struggling with inattentive spouses. They beat on locked doors, were caught in spider webs, and drowning in doubt and misgivings. You could even take a love quiz, but it’s for married folk only. Apparently, women were, and other ad said, ignoring one small intimate physical neglect that could rob them of their husband’s love. Sadly, all these ads put the blame solely on the wife.

Couples therapy was pretty much out of the question during this period, so there was no way to find out if other issues such as depression, being trapped in a loveless marriage, or any other valid reasons for marital troubles were actually at fault. There could be another reason why there wasn’t enough intimacy in a relationship, the fear of getting pregnant. We were still in the midst of the Comstock Act that prevented any information or delivery of contraception to the public. According to historians such as Kristin Hall and Andrea Tone, these ads were also selling contraception. Douching post-coitus was a popular method of birth control. Since it was cheaper and easier to get than condoms or diaphragms, Lysol was the best-selling contraception method for 30 years.

Douching, in general, is bad for vaginal health, using a caustic disinfectant made it an even worse option. In 1952, the makers of Lysol exchanged the cresol for another chemical that made it less toxic, but it was still dangerous to use. Lawsuits were dismissed as allergies. It wasn’t even an effective method of birth control as a 1933 study showed that half the women who used it got pregnant. It wasn’t until the 1960’s and the advent of the pill that Lysol began to fade in popularity. It’s been so long most people had no idea the cleaner we use now (that recommends avoiding contact with eyes, skin, and clothing) was used this way.

And if you weren’t into Lysol, there was also Listerine. But that is another douche story for another time.

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The Myths of Chastity Belts

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When I think of chastity belts, I think of the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights. (Go ahead and judge. I liked this much-maligned Mel Brooks movie) In it, the hero not only will have the key to the fair princess’ heart but to her Everlast chastity belt. We’ve seen and read much about the chastity belt being around since the Crusades. It shows up in books and film, most recently in Mad Max Fury Road. These barriers against infidelity and rape were mostly a tale of fiction until the 19th century. There is no evidence they existed or were used during the crusades. The earliest images were in the 16th century. When you look at the evidence, you find stories about chastity belts are more of a smear campaign against an earlier “dark age” blown out of proportion in the moral mire that was the 19th century. There were, in fact, no medieval chastity belts being worn to protect a ladies virtue.

You might be saying to yourself, “But I’ve seen them! They’re in museums!”

Well, yes, they were in museums. Until they found out they were not from an earlier era but the Victorian era. Most of them have been removed from display. A medieval chastity belt on display at the British Museum turned out to be from the 18th or 19th century. Another that was shown in the Musee de Cluny in Paris, and credited as being worn by Catherine De Medici, was tested and proved to be made in the early 1800s. In typical fashion, we became so enamored with the idea of the chastity belt we never actually looked at how improbable their use really was. We fell for the story about knights locking their wives in metal girdles hook, line, and sinker. As several historians who busted the myth of chastity belts have said, we wanted to believe that the dark ages were a barbaric time compared to our enlightened age.

Oddly enough, the enlightened age that comes up with the preposterous idea was the Renaissance era. The Crusades took place between the 11th and 13th centuries, and there is no evidence of chastity belt use during that time. There isn’t mention of its use until the 15th century. According to Albrecht Claussen, the author of The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process, the first textual evidence is in Konrad Kyser’s Bellifortis in 1405. The book is about war machinery. Florentine women used them, as Kyser tell us in his book, and includes a hand drawn illustration. It’s in a chapter with instruments of torture, so its authenticity is in serious doubt. That and Kyser’s book also includes fart jokes.

When historians look at illustrations and writings from the 15th and 16th century, it’s apparent the girdle of Venus was more of a joke, a piece of prurient propaganda, or a way to decry the dark ages as brutal and cruel thus lesser than the current era. Most of the illustrations show the lover hiding somewhere in the shadows with a copy of the key. Meanwhile, the poor sap of a husband leaves town thinking he has protected his wife from straying while he’s gone. One can imagine these images of cuckolded husbands were quite the knee slapper.

It only get’s worse as we approach the Victorian era, they loved the idea of girdles of cruelty. How else do we keep our hands, and other’s hands and… stuff… from our sinful nether regions.

This is when the fakes enter the scene.

The Victorians were so against sex for pleasure they took an era they thought of as being pretty with it in the “no sex unless for procreation” department and went with it. They didn’t care if it was true, this was an age where patents were being issued every day for inventions to stop people from engaging in sexual activity. What they didn’t take into account was how dangerous these things would be to wear if they actually existed.

A “metal bikini” with a small opening for bodily functions worn for an extended time would be lead to debilitating injuries and even death. Even lined or padded iron would still chafe and cause painful abrasions on the skin. It would be extremely uncomfortable to move or sit, and they did not leave enough space for bodily functions. There would risk of infections and sepsis. Even if a Knight wanted his wife to be locked up in a girdle of Venus while was off on the crusades, he would return to a wife that has been severely injured or even dead. Not really what they had planned.

This means that metal padlocked belts adorned with spike-edged openings may have inspired the ones worn by Immortan Joe’s wives but are just as much a product of fiction as the film. The irony is these barriers to pleasure are now used in BDSM. Chastity belts exist today although worn for a limited time in Dominant/submissive play. They are built to deny access to the genitals or to prevent an erection so that the Dominant has complete control of those options. So take that, Victorian prudes! Today chastity belts are not used to prevent sex but to enhance it.

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Sylvia Rivera: Transgender Activist

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You can’t talk about Marsha P Johnson without talking about Sylvia Rivera. The two friends were passionate activists for transgender/non-gender conforming rights and were advocates for LGBT youth, especially the homeless. Sylvia was inspired during the Stonewall riots by the thought of revolution. She thought the revolution was happening and she wanted to be there for it. While there is still inconclusive evidence that Sylvia was at Stonewall during the riots, what is important to remember is what she did after the riots and during her lifetime that matters.

Sylvia was born Ray Rivera in New York City on July 2nd, 1951. Sylvia had a tumultuous youth growing up in the Bronx as her mother dealt with two difficult and often dangerous marriages. Her stepfather threatened to kill them when she was three. Unfortunately, she would lose her mother soon afterward to suicide. She tried to kill Sylvia too by offered the rat poisoned laced milk she was consuming to her too. Sylvia survived the poisoning but her mother did not. She was sent to live with her maternal grandmother. This new living arrangement was not quite an improvement on her life.

Being half Puerto Rican and half Venezuelan made life with her Venezuelan grandma, Viejita, challenging. Her grandmother didn’t like the dark skin she inherited from her equally dark-skinned father. Viejita also didn’t like her effeminate mannerisms. It also didn’t help when her father took Sylvia’s half-sister Sonia away, leaving her grandmother with the grandchild she didn’t want. She still took care of Sylvia but in a very strict environment, often resorting to beating Sylvia in a desperate attempt to normalize her. She went to all white Catholic schools, to a Catholic boarding school when her grandmother fell ill, and shuffled around to other homes of friend and relatives. She started wearing makeup to school in the 4th grade and dealt with some teasing at school, but the most abuse came from people in the neighborhood. She finally ran away from home at age 10.

Sylvia wound up on 42nd street and relied on sex work support herself. She was already no stranger to sex work as she had previously hustled with her uncle. She was taken in by the local drag community and changed her name to Sylvia. Her years in Times Square started in 1961, a tough time to be gay much less trans. She was also homeless and struggled with addiction. She often went to jail where beatings and sexual assault were common. Later in the 60s, Sylvia started to feel the draw to activism and more openly identified as a drag queen. Sylvia was just 17 during the Stonewall riots. She knew it was time to stop taking the harassment, beatings, and abuse. It was time to fight. She joined the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance; both organizations formed after Stonewall. Unfortunately, she found a reluctance to support cross-dressers and transgender people.

After the Weinstein Hall sit-in, Sylvia and Marsha P Johnson started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970. STAR helped young drag queens and trans youth with food and shelter. Sylvia spent her time helping the poor, the homeless, the people of color, and the gender non-conformists. She and Marsha looked after street kids struggling to survive around the Christopher Street docks. They put them up in their hotel rooms and even tried using an abandoned tracker trailer until the owner recovered it with the street kids still inside. Eventually, they rented a house owned by the mafia that became known as STAR House. STAR House had lasted two years before they were forced to leave. In that time they fed and housed as many people as they could. She and Marsha hustled on the streets to make money to provide for them so they could stay off the streets. They ran STAR as a collective with everyone helping to provide food and supplies. By 1973, with no place to house anyone, STAR was disbanded.

Being a trans into poor sex worker, Sylvia increasingly felt left out of the mainstream-leaning early gay rights movement but continued to find ways to fight. She was the only person arrested while gathering signatures for a proposed gay rights bill, a bill that eventually took out all mention of transgender rights in an attempt to please lawmakers and increase the possibility of it passing. It took 15 more years to pass, and trans rights were still left out. Sylvia even had to force her way to the microphone to speak during Pride. A group led by Jean O’Leary found men dressed as women offensive and tried to deny her access to the stage. Well, she did get there and had some enlightening words to share about the divisiveness of the gay rights movement.

All this was too much for Sylvia after a while, and she tried to commit suicide in 1974. She moved to Tarrytown where she worked a regular job, went to Pride events, and stayed under the radar for a while. She moved back to New York in early 90’s but tried to kill herself again in 1995 by walking into the Hudson River. Marsha’s body had been found in the Hudson River 3 years before, and despite writing a beautiful obituary for her, Sylvia felt Marsha was never appreciated for her work. Surviving this suicide attempt, she reignited her passion for activism. In 1999, Sylvia was invited to speak the World Pride Celebration in Italy and restarted STAR in 2001, changing transvestite to transgender. She also was an advocate for Amanda Milan, pressing for an investigation into her murder and helping with the funeral.

Sylvia passed away in 2002 from liver cancer. She lived the last years of her life at Transy House Collective, a house in Brooklyn run in the spirit of STAR house, and run by a former STAR resident. Her legacy lives on with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, an organization that assists transgender, intersex, and gender variant people. Also, the corner of Christopher Street and Hudson Street is named Sylvia Rivera Way in her honor. She’s often called The Rosa Parks of the Modern Transgender Movement. She and Marsha were almost forgotten but thankfully their work for the community is now remembered and celebrated.

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Marsha P Johnson: Transgender Activist

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For Pride Month, I looked into the history of the Stonewall Riots. An important part of that history is relevant this month. The Stonewall Inn was significant because it catered to the outcast amongst the outliers. They not only provided a safe space for underage homeless gay kids but a place for the transgendered, cross-dressers, and the gender fluid. Gay, lesbian and trans patrons socialized together. It was a place where they could find others like themselves, a place where they could feel safe even if it was only between police raids.

Long before the riots, activist groups were already forming and worked under the radar for equal rights. Constant raids, harassment, and abuse leading up to Stonewall made it an exploding pressure cooker. There are many conflicting accounts of who “started” the riots. What’s more significant are the amazing people who stood up for their rights that night. One of the notable people present that night was Marsha P Johnson, a trans person of color.

Marsha P Johnson was born Malcolm Michaels Jr. on August 24, 1945, in Elizabeth New Jersey. Malcolm moved to NYC in 1966, and legally changed her name to Marsha P Johnson. The “P” she said, stands for “Pay It No Mind,” a preemptive answer to a question she knew was on people’s minds. Marsha identified as a drag queen, though sometimes she would slip into a male persona and become Malcolm on occasion. When that happened, she could be mean and vicious. A majority of the time, she was kind and gentle.

She spent much of her first years in Greenwich Village on the street, a fate for most trans folk and drag queens. Wearing women’s clothes or looking effeminate in a way was unacceptable so kids were often thrown out of the house or they ran away. Marsha decided to escape her family that would not allow her to leave the house dressed as women by moving to the Village. To make ends meet, Marsha found sex work a reliable, if dangerous, way to make a living. She lived for many years couch surfing, staying overnight with Johns or even sleeping in a movie theater during the matinees. She would later find a permanent home with friends.

Marsha’s exuberant nature coupled with her love for extravagant accessories on a non-existent budget was well known and loved. She could often be found with massive amounts of flowers in her hair or with an elaborate hat. She would piece outfits together between dumpster diving, second-hand clothes, and castaways from the flower market. Marsha’s penchant for dramatic clothing served her well while she was a member of the Hot Peaches, a renowned gay theater troupe that ran from 1972 to 1998. In the same spirit as San Francisco’s Cockettes, Hot Peaches was well known for its entertaining and thought-provoking performances. Marsha would read poetry or sing, to much acclaim.

While Marsha was already a member of the Gay Liberation Front, she formed the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, STAR, with her friend Sylvia Rivera in 1970. STAR helped young drag queens and trans women with food and shelter. Their goal was to help cast out young street queens, but they were open to anyone who needed their help. They looked after any street kids trying to survive around the Christopher Street docks. Housing was a challenge. At first, Marsha and Sylvia put up as many as they could in their hotel rooms. They then tried using an abandoned tracker trailer until the owner recovered it with the street kids still inside. Eventually, they renovated a burned out house owned by the mafia that became known as STAR House. Marsha was “mother” to the kids at STAR House during the two years it lasted before they were forced to leave. She and Sylvia hustled on the streets to make money to provide for them so they could stay off the streets. They ran STAR as a collective with everyone helping to provide food and supplies as best they could.

Marsha and Sylvia continued to advocate and help street queens and queer youth even after their attempts to provide a permanent place for them was foiled. They were often seen at marches and protests together. Marsha was also involved with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), an AIDS advocacy group that formed in 1987.

In 1974, Marsha was photographed and painted by Andy Warhol. Warhol decided to do a series based on drag queens. He went to the Gilded Grape, a nightclub popular with cross-dressers, and took photos of several drag queens hanging out at the nightclub. These large format polaroids were transferred to paintings as a silk screen. Marsha’s photo, a brightly smiling portrait with a playful pigtailed wig, became part of his “Ladies and Gentlemen” series first shown in Italy.

As she became a beacon of light for street queens, an inspiring performer and a work of art, Marsha also struggled with mental illness. She even claimed to have visions. Despite not being accepted by the Catholic Church, she was very spiritual and was known to pray prostrate at the foot of a statue of Mary at the local churches. Living as gender non-conforming drag queen and a person of color was already a challenge. Coupled with the dangers of sex work this added immense pressure and stress in her life. During her lifetime, she experienced several attempts on her life by Johns, so many arrests she lost count, and many nervous breakdowns. Despite all this, Marsha was always known to give what little food and money she had to others. There’s a story that she used the last of her money to buy a back of cookies then wound up giving away most of it to the street queens she passed. Marsha’s would rather give away the last of what she had rather than see others go in need.

Marsha’s live was cut short in July of 1992. A few hours after the Pride March on July 6th, her body was found floating in the Hudson River near the Christopher Street piers. The police dismissed it as a suicide, but everyone who knew her argued that was impossible. There had been no indication she was suicidal. What they did know was that she was harassed shortly before she was found dead. Friends rallied to have her death investigated, but the case was closed. In 2012, Mariah Lopez lobbied to reopen the case and won. The New York police department reopened the case as a possible homicide2012. Unfortunately, I can find lots of info about the reopening of the case but nothing about any results. As far as I can tell, the case is still open and unsolved.

Marsha was a champion of trans rights and a guardian angel for the cast off runaways she found in the West Village. There are amazing stories of her vibrant personality and her endless generosity. While not without her demons, she made a big different in the lives of many and continues to be an inspiration long after her death.

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Margaret Sanger: 100 Years of Planned Parenthood

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“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” – Margaret Sanger

Planned Parenthood celebrates it’s 100 birthday on October 16, 2016. Even though birth control is now more readily available, the battle for reproductive rights and sexual freedom still continues. Let’s look back at the origin of Planned Parenthood, and its founder Margaret Sanger.

Margaret Louise Higgins was born on September 14, 1879, in Corning, New York to Michael Hennessy Higgins and Anne Purcell Higgins, the sixth out of eleven children. Margaret’s father made a meager living carving gravestones. He was an agnostic, an abolitionist, and supported suffrage. From an early age, Margaret and her siblings were encouraged to share their opinions. This was unheard of in a time where children were to be seen and not heard.

Despite Michael being open minded, the family still held to very traditional gender roles. Anne was a devout Catholic. She cooked, cleaned and cared for everyone in the household. On top of that, she went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, with several miscarriages. Two didn’t survive to adulthood. By the time she died at the young age of 49, she had looked much older than her years. Margaret was desperate to get away from the overcrowded house, crushing poverty, and taunting by the other children. Her older sisters pooled their money together to send Margaret to Claverack College and Hudson River Institute in 1896, despite their father’s disapproval. He felt nursing was an inappropriate career for his daughter to pursue She spent three years there then rushed home to take care of her ailing mother. She cared for her family after her mother died.

In 1900, Margaret went to New York City and became a nurse probationer at White Planes Hospital. There she met architect and aspiring artist, William Sanger. Margaret was smitten with Bill, and they married in 1902. Bill shared Margaret’s penchant for socialism and radical thinking. At first, they tried to settle down in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York but the builders of their new house had neglected to put an asbestos covering on the heating pipes causing a fire that destroyed their home. The Sangers moved to New York City in 1911 and became heavily involved in the artist community as well as workers rights and the labor movement.

Margaret worked as a visiting nurse in the slums of the east side during this time. There she saw the same issues she grew up with, large families living in poverty. Many mothers became so desperate they performed self-induced abortions. The curse of the working class, mostly immigrant women, was the lack of information about contraception. There wasn’t any way these women could learn how to stop getting pregnant; it’s was illegal and was considered an obscenity thanks to our old friend Anthony Comstock. Not only was it hard for the families to have so many mouths to feed with so little money coming in but also it took its toll on the women. Frequent pregnancies also meant more miscarriages and the steps they often took to end a pregnancy could be fatal. Margaret decided something had to be done and took on the crusade to give women more control and choice when it came to procreation.

This crusade came at a price. Margaret sought out all the information to could find about contraception. In 1912 she wrote What Every Mother Should Know then What Every Girl Should Know for the socialist magazine New York Call. Some welcomed the open discussion of sex while others were shocked by it. In 1913, she traveled to Scotland and France to do research on birth control. She would not return to the U.S. with Bill. Bill stayed in Paris to continue his work as an artist while Margaret returned to NY to pursue her work. Margaret and Bill’s separation sounds amicable in her autobiography. She did not want to keep him from pursuing his art, and he did not want her to have to stay and give up her mission. They finally divorced in 1921 and Margaret would marry again in 1922 to Noah Slee.

In 1914, Margaret and a group of friends came up with the new term “birth control” when they formed the National Birth Control League. She started a magazine called The Woman Rebel, which was considered obscene and thus illegal to distribute. Margaret found herself looking at jail time. When the judge and lawyers tried to pressure her into pleading guilty then promising not to break the law again in return for dismissal of the charges, Margaret decided to flee the country. This was a difficult decision since she now had two sons and a daughter and had been struggling with tuberculosis for some time.

Margaret spent her time in Europe learning everything she could about family limitation and sex education. She spent a great deal of time with Havelock Ellis, who’s Psychology of Sex was blowing everyone’s mind and the Neo-Malthusians. She traveled to England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands where she learned that other countries had a much more liberal attitude towards birth control, especially the Netherlands. Margaret mailed copies of The Woman Rebel while in Europe and prepared to publish her pamphlet, Family Limitation, upon her return.

Margaret eventually returned to the US. Being apart from her children for so long was difficult, and she was worried about her daughter’s health. Margaret managed to get the charges against her dropped despite Comstock tricking her husband into giving an undercover cop a copy of Family Limitation, which resulted in his arrest and jail time. She needed to offer more than the printed word, so she embarked on a cross-country speaking tour. Upon her return to New York, she set up a clinic to help women one on one. On October 16th, 1916, Margaret, her sister Ethel Byrne, and volunteer Fania Mindell opened the first birth control clinic, The Brownsville Clinic, in the US in Brooklyn. Nine days later they were arrested and put in jail. Their crime was distributing information about contraception, selling obscene books, and being a public nuisance.

In 1917, Margaret started The Birth Control Review, a scientific journal. 1921 saw the first American Birth Control Conference held in New York City. Margaret opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in 1923. She then started the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control to eliminate the Comstock laws. In 1939 the American Birth Control League merged with the Clinical Research Bureau to become the Birth Control Federation of America. Members of the BCFA decided to change the name to something more conservative so, in 1942, Planned Parenthood Federation of America was born.

Margaret lived to see the debut of The Pill in 1960 and birth control legalized for married couples in 1965 before she passed away on September 6th, 1966.

Want to read more about Margaret Sanger? Buy The Autobiography of Margaret Sanger.
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Sexuality in Fashion: The Codpiece

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I am a huge fan of the 1980’s British TV series, Blackadder. Comedian Rowan Atkinson plays Edmund Blackadder with each season taking place in a different time period. A scene in the first series involves The Black Adder’s (the 15th century Blackadder) clothing choices while getting ready to attend the announcement of the new Archbishop. He chooses the most ostentatious of clothing items, most notably his codpiece called The Black Russian since it always terrifies the clergy. The reveal of his magnificent codpiece shows a large stiff upward-curving shape.

The first Blackadder’s clothing choices are not too far from what some nobles might have done back in the day. Sexual display in male dress manifests in different ways over the millennia and many a noble was keen on some sexual display. They also like to show their power and virility. One of the more impressive displays from the past is the codpiece. These ornate protuberances started out small and practical then rose to decorative prominence then fell out of favor. How men decided to make their crotch such a fashionable focal point is an interesting evolution.

Western fashion before the 15th century consisted of tunics and hose. Hose being woven cotton, not the sheer nylon we use today. It started as two separate leg coverings that attached to a linen undergarment. The undergarment and chemise (shirt worn under the tunic) covered the crotch, which was also covered by the tunic. The tunic (called a doublet by the 15th century) kept creeping up until it barely covered the bottom, thus exposing the open space between the hose. When the tunic got short enough to be a risk when sitting or getting on a horse, they came up with the idea of sewing the hose together in the back and adding a triangular piece of fabric to the front. The front covering was attached to the hose at the bottom to create a flap then tied to the hose at the top with ribbons or cord. The new style of hose now tied to the doublet. As the doublet got even shorter the triangular flap, now more exposed, got bigger and more decorative. Dubbed the codpiece, it began to bulge and grow until it was almost as big as Edmund’s Black Russian as it became a symbol of virility, sexual prowess, or just to show off

The word codpiece comes from the Old English/Germanic word for bag, pouch or husk and the Middle English word for scrotum. The codpiece reached its peak in the mid-1500s, around the 1540s. At the beginning of the 16th century, hose became divided into upper stocks and lower stocks. They were attached to each other, but the upper stocks were made to look like a separate garment. The upper stocks evolved into breeches while the codpiece became more padded and pouch-like, so it protruded between the hose. It also may have emerged as a handy dandy pocket to store items like jewels, letters, or even, as legend has it, the occasional orange.

While the codpiece growth coincides with the spread of syphilis, it may not have been used or developed because of it. According to Anthropologist Grace Q. Vicary, the codpiece was padded out so that it didn’t press against a painfully syphilitic penis or provided space for an ulcered member wrapped in bandages. The codpiece also kept the unguents from staining the garment. This does not seem to be the case as surviving codpieces were not shaped in a way to accommodate these theories. It wouldn’t be the first time venereal disease inspires fashion as this happens more often than you think.

The codpiece was mostly the fashion accessory of the rich, the ranked, and the royal. Many Henry VIII portraits show him with a fashionable protuberance. He may have been enamored with a full stuffed codpiece because of certain insecurities. Henry was unable to produce a healthy male heir despite a parade of wives. His fascination with large codpieces was a way to let people know he did not lack in the bait and tackle. The rise of the codpiece is also seen in military dress, and some surmise may have started first in armor before clothing. Metal codpieces were a popular piece of military garb, so Henry had one as part of his ceremonial armor.

The padded codpiece is found in art from Germany, Italy, Austria, France and Spain. As the codpiece increased in size, it’s resemblance to the male member in the rest of Europe increased, especially in Italy. Paintings such as Portrait of a Halberdier by Jacomo Pontmoro, Pietro Maria Rossi – Count of San Secondo by Parmigianino dated 1535-39, Guidobaldo II della Rovere by Agnolo Bronzino dated 1530-32, and Portrait of Antonio Navagero by Giovanni Battista Moroni dated 1565 show that Italy was quite fond of the upwardly mobile, highly phallic, codpiece. You can find German woodcuts and paintings with the slashed look that was fashionable at the time, as were puffed out codpieces. Portrait of a Young Man by George Pencz, a German artist, dated 1544 has quite an impressive codpiece that seems to defy gravity.

As we enter into the Elizabethan era, from the mid to late 1500s, we see the codpiece start of whither. Well, not exactly whither but get overshadowed by other pieces of clothing. Emphasis goes away from the codpiece as the peascod belly doublet rises. The peascod belly, or goose belly, is a doublet padded in a way that resembles the chest of a bird. There is even peascod shaped armor. The puffed and padded doublet extended downward with most of the padding at or below the waist. Trunk hose now separate from the hose covering the leg, billowed out so that the fullness obscured the codpiece. Between the full belly and the full breeches, the codpiece faded into obscurity by the end of the 16th century.

Emphasis on genitalia in some way persisted until we get to the staid Victorian era. Around the 1920’s, fashion brought attention back to the body. The codpiece was resurrected in the 20th century, as seen in A Clockwork Orange, Kiss, and Cameo. We can still see it as a symbol of sexual voraciousness and the well endowed in the entertainment industry as bands from a variety of genres like heavy metal, alternative, and R&B sport modern codpieces. The prevalence for codpieces in Renaissance armor is seen on Star Wars characters and superheroes. It hasn’t made its way back into everyday clothing, but every once in a while it shows up on the runways. As a culture, we’re still obsessed with size and virility, except nowadays it’s more about pleasure than progeny.

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Sex and Censorship: Banned Books

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Since it’s Banned Books week, I found myself thinking about how sex is often the reason for censorship. Some books have been banned due to political subversion, questioning religion or disturbing violence but when you look at the list of reasons explicit sexuality comes up often. I decided to look into books banned for sexual themes to see what I could find. I found a long sex education books and novels people have been trying to censor from days gone by and even to this day. Some books are banned as soon as they are written; others only in specific countries and others were denied shipment by the US postal service due to the Comstock law. Some books didn’t get completely banned but challenged, which according to the American Library Association is a formal complaint to remove a book from a school or library.

Books about sex education were often banned for obscenity even though they were trying to educate and provide people with a more satisfying sex life. Marie Stopes wrote several books that were a hit with early 20th century housewives but the U. S. Customs Service felt was obscene enough to ban. The book “Married Love” was published in 1918 then banned in the U.S. until 1931. “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” by Alfred Kinsey, published in 1948, was often censored or banned from bookshelves because of it’s content. The public was shocked by Kinsey’s survey of men and women’s sex lives.

One often hears “promoting homosexuality and perversion” as a reason to ban a book. The book “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” published in 1971 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, was challenged for ten years. Their recommendation to take a mirror and explore your vulva was a bit too much for some people, as was their open discussion of abortion and homosexuality. Alex Comfort’s “The Joy of Sex,” published in 1972, was challenged at times but “The Joy of Gay Sex” by Charles Silverstein was banned because it was a graphic how-to guide for, well, gay sex.

Sex education for kids remains difficult to keep on the shelves even today. “It’s Perfectly Normal” and “It’s So Amazing” by Robie Harris have been on a list of the ten most frequently challenged books nearly since it was released in 1994. “It’s Perfectly Normal” made it to number one on that list in 2005. Some parents had a problem with the “clothing optional” and in flagrante delicto characters of the book. Too much nudity and sex in a sex education book, even though it’s in a cute cartoon style. Naked cartoon characters and upfront description of sex also made people uncomfortable in the book “My Mom’s Having a Baby” by Dori Hillestad Butler.

Some books deal with censorship for centuries after they’re written. “The Decameron” was written in the mid-1300s by Giovanni Boccaccio and was burned and banned in Italy in 1497 and 1553. The book is about seven women and three men telling stories while hiding from the Black Death outside of Florence. They each tell a story every day for ten days. Some of the 100 stories have quite sexually explicit themes. Surprisingly, it would be banned in the US at the start of the Comstock Law in 1873, confiscated in Cincinnati in 1922, banned in Boston in 1933 and appeared on the National Organization of Decent Literature’s blacklist in 1954.

There is an extensive list of popular books banned for explicit sexuality. “Moll Flanders” by Daniel Defoe was published in 1722 and fell victim to the Comstock Law in 1873. “Fanny Hill” by John Cleland was published in 1748 and banned in 1821. It was the last book banned in the US when it was banned again in 1963. Marquise De Sade’s “Justine” (known by its original title “Les Infortunes de la Vertu”) was the first novel written by De Sade in 1791 and the first of his to be banned.

Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” a collection of poems published in 1855, cost Whitman his job in 1865. The book was informally banned, and most libraries refused to buy it. It was banned in Boston in the 1880’s. James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” published in 1922, was banned until the court case United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses in 1933. “Lady Chatterley ‘s Lover” published in 1928 by D.H. Lawrence was banned until it had its own court case in 1959. “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller was published in 1934 then banned soon after its release. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov in 1955, “Naked Lunch” by William Burroughs in 1959, and “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg in 1956 were all banned because of sexual content.

We still have novels challenged due to their open discussion of sexuality. Books I remember from my youth like “Forever” by Judy Blume (which I read in Junior High along with “Wifey”) and “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier (which I remember reading in high school) to current books like “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier (which my daughter read and loved). It seems that every new sex education book that tries to give kids the information they need in a straightforward way is on the fast track to the banned list as soon as it’s released. Thankfully, Banned Books Week by the American Library Association has been reminding us since 1982 that preventing people from reading books to due controversial content is something we need to continue to fight against. We all need to celebrate the freedom to read.

Want to learn more about Banned Books? Check out  Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read, available on amazon, through the link below. While you’re there, pick up some of the banned books you haven’t read yet and help Sexual History Tour. Disclosure: this is an affiliate link.

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Oskar Kokoschka and The Silent Woman

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Some people just can’t get over a breakup. They pine for their former lover, taking out old photographs, memorabilia from their time together, maybe even going to their old favorite places. Or just stalking them and harassing them with repeated plaintive texts. Some people go to great lengths in their refusal to let go of their ex. Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka went that extra mile; he had a doll made of the girlfriend who jilted him.

Oskar Kokoschka was an artist, poet, and playwright. In 1912 he started a relationship with socialite and composer Alma Mahler, the widow of composer Gustav Mahler. They only lasted about two years together as in that time Oskar became more obsessed and enthralled with her while Alma’s feelings for Oskar became a bit more “meh.” Oskar volunteered for the Austrian army at the beginning of WW1 in 1914. While he is away, he gets nearly fatally wounded and returns home in 1915 after his recovery. He is wounded again, but this time with a broken heart. Alma had taken up with a former lover, Walter Gropius, and married him while Oskar was away. He deals with the breakup by finding a way to keep Alma with him. He commissions a doll maker to recreate Alma in life size doll form. One that looks and feels like her in every way.

Oskar contacted doll maker Hermine Moos with a detailed description of how he wanted the doll to look and feel. He sent all of Alma’s measurements along with a life-sized drawing and instructions to not only make the doll to the exact measurements but pay close attention to the dimensions of the head, neck, ribcage, rump and limbs. He wrote, “Please permit my sense of touch to take pleasure in those places where layers of fat and muscle suddenly give way to a sinewy covering of skin.” He wanted to transform her into reality, an experience he can embrace. He even gave examples for the main body stuffing and different stuffing for her breast and buttocks. All this detail was so time consuming, it took Hermine six, excruciatingly long for Oskar, months to finish.

The doll is indeed quite lifelike except for one disconcerting detail; its skin was made of feathers. The doll actually looks furry, though seems to be covered with small downy feathers. My guess is that Hermine took the idea of soft skin a bit too much to heart and found the softest thing she could find. Oskar was impressed with the look of the doll but not the fluffy body. He was upset that it made it extremely difficult to dress her in the fine Parisian clothing and undergarments he had bought. He said it was like she was covered in polar bear fur which made it difficult to even get a stocking on much less the clothing and delicate robes he wanted to dress her in. Despite the unnatural plushie quality of her skin, he did seem happy to see the likeness of his love and tried to make the best of it. Unfortunately, it never lived up to his expectations

Oskar spent most of his time sketching and painting the doll, something he had done often with Alma. There were rumors that he took the doll on carriage rides and to the opera, there may have even been sexual relations with it. There was no evidence that he actually did these things and may have been purposely spread by Hulda, whom he was involved with at this time, at his request. He had first thought of this doll as Eurydice returned to Orpheus from the dead. Instead of fueling his addiction, it cured him of it. After all the posing, sketching and painting, he had lost that loving feeling.

Once he had moved on from his obsession he decided to throw a party for The Silent Woman, the name he and Hulda called his ersatz Eurydice. The party got pretty wild. The next morning the police arrived and woke the sleeping post party participants along with Oskar with a report of a murder. When they went out into the garden the doll was found covered in what looked like blood. She was also missing its head. The blood turned out to be red wine. In his drunken state, he beheaded the doll and broke a bottle of red wine over its head. Apparently, he had been cured of his passion and was ready to move on.

Photos still exist of Kokoschka’s Silent Woman, as do the paintings and his original sketches and instructions to Moos. Perhaps Oskar would not have been so disappointed had he been around in modern times. He could have commissioned a RealDoll version of his beloved Alma. I’m sure there would be no risk of dressing his RealDoll feeling like wrestling with a polar bear. Those expensive Parisian fashions would have looked lovely on high-quality silicone.

Photo: Henriette Moos, Oskar Kokoschkas Alma-Puppe als Venus, 1919 © Privatsammlung, Courtesy Richard Nagy Ltd., London

 

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History of Birth Control – The Female Condom

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September 16th is Global Female Condom Day, a day to celebrate and educate the world about the female condom. The idea of a female or internal condom has been around longer than you may expect. It’s not something you often hear talked about in the United States since we’re kind of fixated on the “over the penis” style condom. The internal condom is used worldwide and is quite popular. The appeal is that it puts the power of contraception and STI protection in women’s hands. It also can be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse and can be used for receptive anal sex. Some people find it easier to use and report that it feels better than male condoms. The portion that covers the external genitals can provide additional help with STI prevention. Let’s travel back and look at the origins and development of this style of condom.

I’ve read the female condom was used as far back as Ancient Greece. There are stories of King Minos (you’ve heard of him; labyrinth, Minotaur, Theseus) killing his mistresses with his serpent and scorpion ejaculate and the use of a goat’s bladder to save them. This myth is not exactly proof of the early use of an internal condom since the story of Minos resides mainly in myth. When you look into it further, it is possible there was a real king of Knossos but the name Minos may have been a title, not a name. There seems to be no definitive link to a particular person, just lots of stories and speculation.

The two stories I read about Minos are that his wife, Pasiphae the immortal daughter of the god Helios, bewitched her adulterous husband so that he ejaculated deadly centipedes, serpents, and scorpions thus killing his mistresses. Pasiphae was immune to Minos’ ejaculation but a woman he seduces, Procris, uses an herbal mixture to protect herself from the deadly creatures Minos ejaculated so they can get it on. Another story says Procris comes up with an idea to help Minos who is childless due to his poisonous issue. She inserted a goat’s bladder into one of the women so he could ejaculate his mistress-killing creatures into the bladder. He then had sex with his wife prompting her to conceive. In both stories, Minos rewards Procris with a javelin and dog that never missed their target which leads to her tragic end in another myth. (Sorry, spoilers.)

I’ve seen so many variations of this story, including one where Pasiphae is not immune and needs the bladder to save her own life. Minos and Pasiphae had many children, so I can’t imagine the goat’s bladder was a life-saving necessity but would be a barrier to conception and infection. Was his serpent-laden seed an allegory for impregnating semen or infectious disease? We don’t know, but it makes a great story. While there are many versions of this story, they are often based on real people or events. It is possible the goat’s bladder was already in use for contraception, STI prevention or both in ancient times. The idea of the bladder being inserted into the woman first rather than applied to the penis makes it a strong candidate for an early female condom.

Between this ancient myth and the late 19th century, there isn’t much evidence of internal condom use. Birth control was used but not talked about publicly, at least not in much of the surviving texts. I’m sure some type of internal condom similar to that handy dandy goat’s bladder was in use during that stretch of time. The invention of vulcanized rubber in the mid-1800s started the mass production of condoms, cervical caps, and diaphragms. You can find quite a few patents and products from the mid to late 19th century for pessaries, cervical caps, and the “womb veil.”

Finding a reference to a female condom in the 19th century proved to be impossible. I only managed to find many references to and one photo of a female condom dated 1937. I couldn’t find a primary resource for the image. I dug deeper and found an article on mosaicscience.com that cited another undated picture I discovered as coming from the book “Contraception” by Marie Stopes. The female condom in this photo was very similar to the one dated 1937. Intrigued, I went in search of the book.

“Contraception (birth control) its Theory, History and Practice” by Marie Stopes was originally published in 1923. Stopes was a pioneer in birth control and sexuality during the late 19th to early 20th century. She wrote many books on the subject including the controversial “Married Love” published in 1918. I finally found a digital copy of the second edition from 1927. There is a photo in the book of a collection of contraception devices that are “Various forms of feminine caps for wear in the vagina.” Among a variety of cervical caps and occlusive caps is one “feminine sheath or Capote Anglaise” that looks like it’s made of rubber. In the book she describes it as “Large membranous or rubber sheaths, the ” Capote Anglais,” calculated to cover the in­ternal female organs completely, acting like the male sheath in preventing contact of the seminal fluid with the vaginal surface.” She goes on to say. “All have an oval inflated rim with a long condom-like sheath of thinner rubber attached. In theory they resemble the condom, being merely in one way a reversed condom applied as a lining for the vagina instead of a covering for the penis.” I may not have found the 1937 female condom, but I found one from a book published in 1923, over ten years earlier.

As I was digging around for the Marie Stopes book, I found another mention of a similar contraceptive item. There was a listing for a “Capote Anglais or Ladies Sheath” in an “S. Seymour” Seymour Surgical Stores catalogue. I couldn’t find a date for the catalog but looking at the publishing dates of the “sane sex books” they had for sale, it’s most likely from the late 1920’s. I was surprised to find more evidence of female condoms marketed for sale in the 1920’s along with lots of other items I don’t usually see in print. You couldn’t advertise or mail anything containing sexual content due to the Comstock law, so I was quite surprised to find this catalog, even though it’s advertised as medical supplies.

I didn’t find much else other than the Marie Stopes book and S. Seymour’s catalogue until I got to Lasse Hessel. The Danish doctor, author, and inventor first developed his version of the female condom in 1984. It wasn’t until 1987 that Mary Ann Leeper from the Wisconsin Pharmacal Co visited Hessel in Copenhagen to see his product. It was polyurethane loose fitting sheath with a flexible ring at each end, unlike the previous feminine sheath options. The closed end of the sheath has a ring that is not only used to hold it in place but helps with insertion. At the open end, the other ring remains outside so that the rest of the sheath covers part of the external genitalia. All of this makes for a more reliable and comfortable internal condom.

Lepper and Hessel applied for a patent and Leeper created the Female Health Company as a new division of Wisconsin Pharmacal. They started the process of FDA approval and hoped to distribute in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Around this time you start seeing other patents for the female condom, all vying for FDA applications. I found a patent for a female condom that was applied for in 1989 by Harvey Lash. Dr. Harvey Lash was a plastic surgeon. Also inspired to action due to the HIV/AIDS crisis, he developed his own version of the female condom along with his son, Dr. Bob Lash, an engineer and entrepreneur who develops medical devices. According to Bob Lash’s website, it was well into clinical trials when a woman’s group protested and required testing against birth control pills and not a standard condom. That changed it from a Class II to a Class III. They disbanded the company when they couldn’t afford to start over on clinical trials. This woman’s group, the National Woman’s Health Network, also slowed things down for Hessel and Leeper.

While Wisconsin Pharmacal raised funds to cover the extended studies, Hessel decided to sell the world rights to a Dutch investor who created the company Chartrex Resources Ltd. The combination of the investor and a Dutch non-profit foundation made it possible to produce and distribute the female condom worldwide. Wisconsin Pharmacal went public in 1991, but the FDA did not officially approve the female condom until 1993. The FC1 was official in the US. Much to everyone’s surprise, it did not gain popularity right away.

There were complaints about the distracting crinkling sound the polyurethane condom made, as well as the steeper price even though studies proved the polyurethane could be washed, sterilized and reused. The FHC decided to use nitrile instead. Nitrile is also latex free, durable and resistant to oils. The material change reduced the production costs and retail price, although still more expensive than a male condom. The FC2 debuted in 2007 and was FDA approved in 2009.

Since then it’s become more popular around the world and is accepted as part of the World Health Organization’s national programming. Acceptance is still slow in the US, but the FHC, sex shops, and sex educators are working raise awareness and acceptance of this versatile condom. You can find a variety of female condoms now, and more coming that are either in development or undergoing clinical trials. We’ve come a long way from goat’s bladders and conical ladies sheaths made of rubber.

 

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Early History of the Prostate

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The word prostate has its roots in the Greek word prostates which means “one who stands before,” “protector,” or “guardian.” This may be due to its position to the front of the gallbladder. The Greek word was not used for the organ we now know as the prostate. In fact, it wasn’t a medical term but may have been the origin of the words “President” and “principal.” It would take centuries before a form of this word would be used for a part of the body. Use of the term “prostate” may have been used earlier than we thought, predating written evidence we have today.

Niccolo Massa was the first to make notations about the prostate while performing anatomy dissections in 1532. Massa published his observations in the book Liber Introductorius Anatomiae, an anatomy textbook. In it, he describes in the inner workings of the human body in great detail. Massa makes a very brief reference to the prostate but does not call it by that name.

Andreas Vesalius’s book, De Humani Corporis Fabrica published in 1543, has a more detailed description of the prostate. These early writings did not accurately portray how the prostate worked nor its actual purpose. They recorded merely speculation at this point, with some interesting ideas of how the prostate worked.

1600 may have been when the first actual use of the word prostate is found in a document. French physician Andre Du Laurens used a version of the word, “prostatae” in his book Historia Anatomica Humani Corporis. This is the wrong gender ending to the word, but it was used that way due to an error in interpreting the prostates composition and function. They were trying to find a name that identified it as doubled. It would take centuries before this error would be considered incorrect and a consistent term is adopted.

I found surprisingly little information about the prostate between the 17th century and the 19th. It’s not until the 19th century that you start to see more written evidence. Jean Cruveilhier, a French physician and anatomist who has several diseases to his name, wrote about the prostate in the early 19th century. Later in the century, Leo Testut would also write about the prostate. They seem convinced the prostate consisted of several lobes. Jean Cloquet and Marie Philibert Constant Sappey described it as a unique zone.

When we get into the 20th century, Joaquin Albarran described the sub-urethral glands in 1902. Bernard Joseph Cuneo wrote about the prostate in 1911, Oswald S Lowsley in 1912, Gil Vernet in 1953 then LM Franks, in 1954. John McNeal wrote about the prostate in 1968 and 1978. He had established that the prostate is histologically and anatomically heterogeneous. It has three zones, transitional, central and peripheral ones. McNeal not only mapped the structure of the prostate he is also known for pioneering prostate cancer pathology.

One big issue I found while trying to look up the origin of the term prostate is that it’s hard to say exactly when the term got its start. Most write-ups about the word credit du Laurens as the first to use the term as prostatae. Another abstract refutes this and says that other anatomists and physicians knew of the prostate’s existence as early as Herophilus of Alexandria in the 300s BC. Herophilus is credited as being the first anatomist, so it is possible he was the earliest person to write about the prostate. Often the prostate was described as a glandular assistant. Despite being looked at in cadavers for centuries, it was only until the mid 20th century that prostate cancer was fully mapped out, and ways to improve prostate health became a priority.

It’s interesting to see how long it took for doctors to uncover the mystery of “guardian” of the gall bladder. Now we have a whole month devoted to the prostate as September designated as National Prostate Health Month. Not bad for a walnut-sized gland that does more for your health than just provide an alkaline fluid for sperm.

 

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