Courtesans and Birth Control

All info and quotations from Katie Hickman's Courtesans.

Most of the courtesans we've discussed never had any children because 1.) Kids are expensive (and those diamonds you're going to wear once and throw away aren't going to pay for themselves), 2.) Kids cramp a prostitute's groove, and 3.) Pregnancy can cause you to lose your disgustingly tiny waist, and no one will want to sleep with you if you haven't been crushed into deformity. So how did these old tarts keep from going on stork watch?

Well, you had your prototype condoms made out of sheep intestines, rubber or rags soaked in spermicide. You also had your abortive measures which, like the condom, have been around for most of recorded history. Crush up some herbs and hey, presto, you have a nasty-ass cup of tea that does things I'd rather not think about.

There was also a sponge as large as a "small apple" (190) (yikes) that was popularized at the beginning of the 19th century, which served as a sort of diaphragm but honestly, that had to interfere with . . . business. I want to believe that these were at least one-use, disposable sponges, and nobody better correct this reality I've decided to accept. I have a hard enough time even using the sponges in the kitchen, because everyone knows that a sponge is an incubus of pestilence. Never mind introducing someone's hoo-haw to the equation.

However, sponges sound way more friendly than Casanova's method (yes, he was a real person, and was every bit the ho-bag we've been led to believe he was). He was buddies with Voltaire, and when he went to visit Voltaire in Geneva, the philosopher introduced him to three young ladies of respectability. Casanova immediately seduced all three (because quantity over quality, I guess), and, ever the considerate skirt chaser, did what he could to keep them from getting pregnant and ruining their marriage prospects.

"he first considerately took three gold coins to a local goldsmith and had them melted down into solid gold balls [please tell me this wasn't how he paid them], which he instructed the girls to insert into their vaginas, assuring them that the chemical reaction of the gold with their natural secretions [it's far too early in the morning for me to deal with that word] would make them temporarily infertile. Apparently it worked: although, during their more acrobatic love-making, the gold balls had a tendency to fall out [No way, REALLY?]" (191).

"Also effective, and rather more economical, was the use of a squeezed half-lemon, again recommended by Casanova, which like the golden balls was inserted into the body in such a way that it capped the cervix — although, perhaps understandably, it does not seem to have been adopted with any great enthusiasm" (191).

Casanova: erstwhile gynecologist, chemist, flying trapeze artist and greengrocer.

P.S. According to this book, the lemon thing is still popular with Russian women today.

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One Response to Courtesans and Birth Control

  1. Anonymous says:

    i’ve heard of a sponge being soaked in vinegar used but i can’t remember where. must work on the same principal as the lemon….


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