Ancient Times

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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Greeks Bearing Gifts: Anal Sex in Ancient Greece

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When I was a teenager, I remember going to my dance teacher’s house to pick up some items we needed for an upcoming recital. While we were gabbing and getting things ready, she made a joke about her soon to be husband being Greek. She alluded that the Greek were into “that stuff” but she hoped that didn’t suddenly become a thing for him after they were married. I laughed and nodded but inside my head I was trying to figure out what she was talking about. I was a somewhat worldly teenager. Well, worldly in knowledge, not deeds. I may not have done everything I knew about, but I knew far more about sex than most of my friends did. Thankfully another girl with us just came out and said, “What stuff?” prompting a “doin’ it in the butt” whispered explanation.

Ah, “That stuff” was “Butt stuff.” My teenage brain wondered, “Were the Greeks really known for that?”

Over the years the idea of “Greek Love” or “Greek Style” has been mostly a punchline, and in truth, something that is rarely ever mentioned much less joked about. I forgot about it until I was doing research on anal sex and it popped up in a few places. It’s not entirely an urban myth but it’s also not a proven fact. It seems to stem from the oft-confused knowledge we have about Grecian attitudes about sex. Did they prefer anal sex as much as people think they did? Were the ancient Greeks more accepting of male on male sex? Yes, and no, and maybe. When you delve deeper into the history of Ancient Greece you get a less than clear picture. There is little substantial written evidence of a proclivity towards anal sex, but there is a fair bit of it in the art. Vase paintings make it seem as though it was as common as vaginal sex but it may not be representing exactly what was preferred or even acceptable.

Things we do know about the ancient Greeks are that women had no rights, were not allowed to be educated, and their only purpose was to procreate. Men had all the rights and power in their society. Men also had very close relationships with other men. Some writings even suggest that men preferred the company of other men rather than with women. Wives were poorly educated and considered property, only limited time was spent with them. Well, unless the woman was a prostitute. Apparently, prostitutes were a short step higher in society than a wife and had considerably more influence and power. Girls were married off early in exchange for a dowry. They spent their lives taking care of the household and having children. Men only had other men as their intellectual equals so I can see why they preferred same sex company. Some Greek men had very close and loving relationships with other men, but the more common occurrence was a close relationship with a young man or boy. And here the waters get murky again.

Here’s the thing. Sex between grown men was not acceptable mainly because it “feminized” the recipient. It was shameful to be feminized in a society that thought of women as lowly property. Most likely for that reason it was considered acceptable to have a relationship with a young man between the age of consent, about 14-16, the age girls were expected to marry. Once you were fully matured and could grow a full beard, you were expected to get married and start a family of your own. Pedastery, a sexual relationship between older (erastes) and younger males (eromenos) or more accurately the Greek term Paiderastia, is thought to have been common in Greek society. Relationships with adolescent boys seemed to be the thing with Grecian wives often playing second fiddle to their husband’s young male lover. While it’s safe to say that anal sex was probably happening somewhere in these same-sex relationships, it is thought that most of these were sexual but not in a penetrative way. Intercrural sex, where the penis to put between the receiver’s thighs, may have been more popular as anal sex was considered to be demeaning to the receiver. Some relationships may not have been sexual at all but more of an intimate friendship or mentoring a young man as he grows to adulthood.

Greek Love really isn’t shorthand for being into anal sex since even the Greeks were either not very interested in it or where secretive about it due to the ancient populace’s worry that it might turn a young man into a woman. Although the concept of sexuality being separated into hetero and homosexuality was not prevalent, one did not need to have a preference for a single sex. The lowly state of the female in Greek society meant the penetrative anal sex was more likely in heterosexual relationships or only with someone equally low rank like a slave. It may have even been an effective form of birth control. With aristocratic young Grecian men leaving home for military or athletic training at the same age as women were going off with their much older husbands in arranged marriages, the relationship between the young man and his older mentor had a less sordid connotation.

This practice was also found in ancient Crete and Sparta, often associated with military training and the bond of comrades in arms. It existed in ancient Rome but usually limited to a nonsexual mentorship with Roman youth since sex with them was not permitted, that was only appropriate with slaves or those who were not Roman citizens. The depiction of same-sex older men and youths in various ranges of intimacy can be found in ancient art. It also exists in Greek myths with stories like Ganymede who was abducted by Zeus to be the cupbearer of the gods. It’s thought that Zeus could not resist Ganymede’s beauty so he made him immortal and placed him by his side on Mt. Olympus. Hera may have been none too pleased by this competition for Zeus’ affection. There is even mention in Greek literature by writers such as Plato and Socrates.

We have been making assumptions when referring to “Greek Love” as a term for anal sex. It is more akin to a bromance than butt stuff when you look further into the culture and practices of ancient Greek society.

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Onanism: From Coitus Interruptus to Self-Pleasure

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Tintoretto,_Jacopo_-_Giuda_e_Tamar_-_c._1555_-_1559

Merriam-Webster defines Onanism as 1. Masturbation 2. Coitus Interruptus 3. Self-gratification. Onanism at its most basic is the withdrawal of the penis in sexual intercourse thus ejaculating outside of the vagina. While the original use of the term was for coitus interruptus, it was more widely used in reference to masturbation. Use of this term became more complicated over the ages. The concept of Onanism was used to support the religious idea that masturbation is against God’s will. It was the impetus behind a great many anti-masturbation movements, some of which were fairly extreme. Onanism was derived from bible verse in the Old Testament, Genesis chapter 38 to be more precise. A little story about Onan and his dead brother’s wife.

That is the wife of his dead brother, not the dead wife of his brother… now that I’ve cleared that up the bible story is no less of an uncomfortable read.

Onan was the second son of Judah. Upon his elder brother Er’s death, he is ordered by his father to sleep with his late brother’s wife so that she may produce children. It was his duty as her brother-in-law to raise up offspring for his brother. Since Er was first born, the children he would have with his wife, Tamar, would be considered his late brother’s, not his. Onan apparently was not too happy about these kids he would be fathering not technically being his. He decided to get around this by sleeping with her but pulling out and “spilling his seed upon the ground.” The Lord was not too thrilled with this and supposedly killed him for it.

Oh, and Er died because he was “wicked in the sight of the lord” just like Onan. Seems like an issue in this family.

Before we move on to the wackiness that is getting killed by God for not fathering children with your brother’s wife, let’s talk about why this was a thing. It’s called a levirate marriage, Yibbum in Hebrew. The idea behind a levirate marriage is that a brother is obligated to marry his brother’s wife if said brother dies before producing children. The children produced by the union of the brother-in-law with his brother’s wife were then considered the children of the deceased brother. Since Er was the older brother, this meant that all rights and properties he had as eldest would pass on to his children, and the children his wife had with his brother, not passed on to Onan and his progeny. The origin of levirate marriage was most likely so that the widow would not be left without a husband to care for her and also to keep the widow within the confines of the tribe. It also assured that the son of the eldest child received the inheritance due him when the eldest child dies and not pass on to the next surviving sibling. Levirate marriage occurred in other cultures around the world in places like Turkey, Africa, Indonesia, and even England.

Onan seemed none-too happy to bear children with his brother’s wife that he would have to care for yet receive zero of the inheritance. Instead, he sort of half assed his obligation. He didn’t refuse to sleep with her but went through the motions and prevented pregnancy from occurring. The story continues with Tamar, Er’s widow, being promised Judah’s youngest son when he was old enough. Either she was tired of waiting or Judah reneged on his deal because Tamar felt she had to take things into her own hands to produce this heir. She disguised herself as a prostitute so she could trick Judah to lay with her thus producing an heir. He offers her a goat but will gladly pay her Tuesday for a roll in the hay today. She takes some of his possessions as collateral, which she uses later to prove that she didn’t technically prostitute herself since she never took the goat and the father is actually her husband’s father.

So what does this have to do with masturbation, you might ask? It’s sort of a loose interpretation by those reading the bible. Spill seed on ground became less about birth control and more about self-gratification. Spilling seed in any way that did not result in creating progeny was wicked in the eyes of God. It was first seen in writing about the perils of self-pollution in the early 18th century. 19th century proponents of anti-masturbation would use it often. People like Tissot, Kellogg, Kant, and even Twain wrote papers about the perils of masturbation. It wasn’t until the mid 20th century where studies by people like Kinsey, followed by the sexual revolution, changed people’s minds about Onansim.

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