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From Crocodile Dung To Honey Paste Parti Birth Control: An Ancient Practice

From Crocodile Dung To Honey Paste Parti Birth Control: An Ancient Practice image From Crocodile Dung To Honey Paste Parti Birth Control: An Ancient Practice image
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We live In a modern contraceptive culture. Excluding the unreliable coitus interruptus, control devices are rooted in the principies and materials of modern science-chemistry, rubber, plastic, and a precise understanding of the female monthly cycle. Bound as we are to these devices it is easy and natural to presume that other and earlier cultures did not have birth control, or relied upon magie and superstition. Bawdy tales of eighteenth century Europe, or the erotic cultures of India. China anti Japan somehow conjuro upthe image of women beseiged by preanaacv and besel bv malo lust. Perhaps thcy just look tlieir chances, and were lucky if tlicy did not suffer the consequences. llow ethnpcentric tu presume that se and sexual freedom for women isa new thing. Individual and societal po pula t ion control is in facl an essential facet of nearly every culture for which we liave records. Evidence indicates that birth control is and was a cultural necessity for two very basic reasons: populations must adjua to available resources and social needs, and secondly, sex has atways been enjoyed by both men and women. It is difficull 10 measure exactly how much various cultures A llave undei stood about physioiogy, but the birth control practices oí many societies indícate at the vcry least a comprehension of the tact tlmt conception is caused by the meeting of male sperm and the female egg. The complexities of iliis process are many, but basically conception can be prevented in two ways: by either killing the sperm. or by blocking the ent (anee to the cervix and preventing the sperm froni entering the uterus. A third method is avoidance of intercom se during the approximately . four days óf the montli wlien a woman is fertile, bui , but there is 110 evidence that the femalc monthly cycle was corrëctly and fully undeistood until the l('20's. Most birtli control methods (aside trom abstinence. abortion, and infanticide) used available materials to either kill the sperm or prevent its cntry into tlie uterus. Comprehension of the process of conception i and means of prevent ing fertilization is evident 't asearly as ancient tgypt. Remarkably, their birth control methods were structurally ' !ar to the sanie methods we practice today. In April 1 HX9 three pages of papyrus were found at Kahun, daling t'roin approximately 1 850 B.C. These sheets of papyrus (the Egyptian type of paper) contain gynecobgical presci iptions and instructions. One slieet had erodèd into 4r different pieees. and when reconstructed revealed instruetions for three birtli control methods. The t'irst is a mixture of crocodile dung (that's crocodile sliit ) and a paste-like material. Crocodile dung is alkaline to a degree similar to contetnporary spermicides, that is, it chemically neutralizes the sperm when it enters the vagina. The paste presumably would dilute the dung to a I ous level. Elepliant dung was iater used as a cuntraceptive in India. Several Arabic physicians of the ninth and eleventh ] turies wrote tliat elephant dung was an effeetive contraceptivo ' when mixed witli honey. The use of lioney as a contraceptive is common to many cultures, including Egypt. The Kahun papyrus mentioned a prescription of honey and natrón. Natrón is native sesqui-carbonate of soda, a compound which contracts ihe mouthof the womb and makes impiegnation unlikeiy. Honey clogs the sperm; and prevents it trom passing througli the cervix. Ihe third contraceptive method mentioned in the DaDvrus isa like substance inserted in the vagina. Tliis töo would serve to dog the sperm and prevent itsentry into tlie ulerus. A later Egyptian text. the Ebers papyrus trom aboul 1550 B.C.. discusses a cdntraceptive of the lint tampons moistened wittí thejuice froro fermented tips of acacia shrubs. The major cbemica! ingrediënt ol' acacia shrubs is lactic acid. which (surprise!) isone of ihe most commonly used components of modem spermicides, both jellies and creams, ncJuding the types used in diapln agms. Birth control methods of tlie ancien) Hebrews revea) a greal deal aboul classic dynamics ol population control. Ancien) Hebrew law declared prolific reproduction a blessing, and the Mishna (an ancient spurce of Hebrew law) stated iluu men must continue to propágate children, at least until lic luis two sous. I he Hebrews followed i h is commandmeni ol reproduction, but alter the exile trom Egyp) and se tt lemen I in Israel, it was clear thal the agricultura! way of lile had reached a point of population saturación, I aw adaptèd to allow only preservation of the race, thai is. thai each cuuple, when physically possible, have two children. Adjustnienl was rclatively simple, because the original law allowed women to practice birth control. % These methods are startlingly "modern." In cases where the healih of the mothet was threatened. ubortion was allowed-, and operations were perfortned luie in pregiuincy in which the embryo was removed from the of the niother. Anothcr common Hebrew method for pievention of conception was the insertion of a sponge in ihe vagina, thereby blocking the spcrm from entering the uterus through the cerl vix. Tliis sponge method was widety used in nineteentli century AI meriea and England. Hebrew wonien also preven ted conception by drinking the "cup it roots, wruch isactually ihe first known historica! ment on of an oral contraceptivo. The potion was a mixture of Alexandrian gum. aluni and garden crocus. Contemporary science does nut indícate whether gwallowing tliis potion would actually prevent conception, but when insei led in ihe vagina aluni acts like natrol. as a i spermacide. and Alexandrian gum stickily prevenís the sperm trom passing through the cervix. The metliod was apparentl) cornmon in Israel, particularly among prostituios and women wlio fpund it physically ditïicult to bear childion. The quttC common use-of the method is some indication that it did in fatt work. continued on page 25 "Hebrew women prevented conception by drinking 'the cup of roots actually the first known oral contra ce pt i ve." "The use of honey as a contraceptive is common to many cultures including Egypt." Ancient Birth Control continued from page 15 population for tlie Greek city state, and encouraged abortion and the exposure of deforined infants as a means of controlling population. Aristotle also mentioned that liis contemporaries prevented conception "by anointing that part of the womb on whlch the seed falls with oil of cedar, or with with ointmerit of lead qr witli frankincense, commingled witli olive oil." Olive oil acts ks a contraceptive by reducing the mobility oí spe rm. and the othei oils have an acidic affect whfch acts as a spermicide. These basic principies of conception prevention are evident in lslarnic practice as well. Ancient Arabic cultures recommended use óf a tampon soaked in pomegranate pulp with alum, rock salt, or cabbage leaves with tar. Alu, like natrón, is au astringen! and spermicide. Rock salt causes sterility, though it can lead to infection when used without sufficient dilution. Pomegranates also serve as a spermicide. NEXT ISSUE: Part II "The History 01' Birth Control" Part II will move east to contraceptivo prácticos of the Oriënt and South Pacific. Also. int'oimation on the history of the condom, and the struggles and successes of the modern bii th control mo vemen t, which had its beginnings in 182O's Engknul.