Today, in the 21st Century, we are exposed to a plethora of information regarding pregnancy and contraception and for many women who strive to make the best choices for themselves and their physiques - valid scientific studies are available. We are indeed very fortunate. On the contrary in ancient times, methods of contraception ranged from absurd to frightening. Moving forward, our own grandmothers sage advice often left us feeling less than confident in certain practices. Though, we certainly listened with heartfelt enthusiasm and perhaps even a little intrigue.
The year 2017 marked the 57th anniversary of the birth control pill, which many considered to have empowered women and sparked a revolution. However, for centuries, women have had some control over reproduction, although perhaps, not as effective as what’s available today. Understanding one's personal fertility and the factors that affect fertility potential will always be a hot topic. The more that women know about the realities of conception, the more power they will have over their choices regarding procreation.
On top of all the compelling data, we will always place trust in the knowledge of generations before us, such as our mothers and grandmothers. But one must admit that the tales of the past and what was considered to be reflective encouragement is truly a gift - despite how bizarre, silly or true.
15 Unable To Conceive - Wannabe Dad Is Perfect, Mom Is The Problem
Despite the fact that men are overtaking women as the root of infertility in relationships, women are still taking the blame. Our grandmothers experienced a culture dedicated to the pursuit of becoming the perfect wife which predominantly meant providing her husband with offspring. If and when they became pregnant, the husband would receive credit. When a woman could not conceive, she would bear the brunt of criticism. A women’s task was to procreate and, in essence, it defined who she was, both to society and herself.
Similar cultural assumptions about a woman’s reproductive responsibilities continue to exist today and gender bias within the medical field is quite dominant. There is a lack of research devoted to male infertility. Plus, we live in a world where there are more practitioners and technologies focused on evaluating women than there are assessing and treating men.
Cambridge University medical sociologist, Liberty Walther Barnes discovered this whole social structure in place of doctors, nurses, and the media — making sure, every step of the way, that men don’t have to ever admit that they’re infertile. Even wives, tread gently regarding their husband’s fertility issues. Ego plays a significant role.
Female failure is a part of a collective consciousness. For about a hundred years, two basic assumptions have shaped medical science and reproductive research. The first is that having babies is a woman’s work. The second is the social myth, that woman will do anything to get pregnant.
Women endure years of diagnostic procedures, medication, charting basal body temperature, checking cervical mucus, investing in digital fertility monitors, eating all-organic superfoods only to discover their inability to conceive was actually due to their partner's poor sperm count.
Publicly recognizing that all men cannot be natural fathers needs to become our new cultural phenomenon; finally making the infertile man not so invisible.
14 Egg Quality - Grade A Eggs Don't Come From The Coop
Dating back to your grandmother, the quality of a women's eggs has always been a topic of discussion in terms of conception. Today, egg quality is now listed as one of the most critical factors in determining a woman’s fertility. But just what determines how grade A one's eggs are?
According to Reproductive Specialists of New York, egg quality refers to how prepared your eggs are to develop into embryos once they are fertilized. High-quality eggs produce high-quality embryos and high-quality embryos often result in a full term pregnancy.
Just because a woman has a regular monthly period, does not mean that she has a high enough egg quality to result in a pregnancy. If an egg with poor quality is fertilized, the woman does not typically carry the pregnancy to full term. This is because the egg might be unable to implant, or it may implant, but not be able to develop properly.
In terms of egg quantity, a woman is born with all of the eggs she will ever have, and as she ages, the number becomes smaller and smaller. The number of eggs decreases with age and the fewer eggs a woman has, the harder it is for her hormones to recruit and develop an egg.
Is it possible to improve your egg quality? Absolutely! Eating a nutrient-heavy diet, regular exercise, reducing daily stresses, getting quality sleep, and introducing supplements into your diet can result in healthier eggs. Most likely, this is trusted advice your grandmother has already shared with you.
13 Outsmarting Those Little Guys With Good Old Fashion Hygiene?
There are copious amounts of innovative ways people think of to outsmart sperm and avoid pregnancy. The notion that washing after sex might “flush out” the sperm, reducing the chance of pregnancy may not sound like an entirely ridiculous notion, but our bodies just don't function that way. Grandma may have meant well, however, although showering or washing may leave you feeling squeaky clean, it is not an effective method of contraception.
It only takes the power of one tiny swimmer to fertilize an egg and the sprint to fallopian tubes is unyielding! Even if you master an Olympic sprint to the shower, you would never beat them to the punch.
If there is an egg present in the fallopian tube, it may be fertilized - if not it will wait at least 6 days for an egg. Once the sperm is planted in the reproductive organs, it’s there to stay.
Similarly, douching is also an ineffective way to prevent pregnancy. Furthermore, the chemicals and perfumes in douches or feminine sprays do not help and can actually cause problems like allergic reactions, irritation, or infections.
Sperm are amazingly resilient, made to survive and swim for days in the female reproductive system. So, don't make the mistake of counting on water, gravity, or your grandmother’s reassurance to alter the facts.
12 Chugging Cough Syrup Will Help You Conceive
What exactly was grandma thinking when she reached for the bottle of cough syrup? Well, it appears she was not alone in presuming that it actually increased a woman’s fertility.
Mucolytics - also called “expectorants,” contain a liquifying agent called guaifenesin. When it is an active ingredient in cough syrups, it works to break up mucus in the lungs and throat by loosening it up. In the same way, it helps your body create more cervical mucus so that sperm is transported more easily to the eggs. The more lubricious, the better!
Throughout your cycle, the quality and feel of your cervical mucus are cycling too. During infertile periods, mucus is dry, sticky or tacky, but when fertility begins, cervical mucus changes, becoming thinner, clearer and stretchy, like an egg white - the perfect environment for sperm. This is what mucolytics attempt to duplicate.
Before heading for the medicine cabinet, it’s important to keep in mind that if guaifenesin isn’t the active ingredient, the medication is probably designed to actually dry up all of the mucus in the body, so you’ll be taking unnecessary medications to achieve the opposite of your desired results.
It’s really not clear that thinner mucus will actually make you more fertile, as quality is just as important as the consistency. Remember, this information is purely anecdotal and even grandmother should know better than to trust the unreliable!
11 To Prevent Pregnancy Or Maybe To Prevent Something Else?
Your grandmother may have shared this private little secret with you - the premise that peeing after sex forces the sperm out before the little guys have a fighting chance to swim past your cervix. Although one prefers not to challenge our elders, this prevalent myth needs to be exposed - no more holding it in!
Logically, a single load of ejaculate contains between 20 and 400 million sperm. Immediately after ejaculation about 60 percent of sperm break free from the semen and start traveling toward the cervix. By the time you get up to pee, the fastest sperm will have already made its way up through the cervix. Anything that falls out immediately after sex or when you get up to pee wouldn’t have made it through - regardless.
Furthermore, the hole you pee through (urethra) is not the same tube where sperm is released into. Many people don’t realize these are two separate holes, so anatomically, peeing has no physical chance of being flushed out. So until urine can find a way up to your cervix, peeing to prevent pregnancy is futile.
There is some good news if you still insist on making the mad dash to the washroom. Peeing after sex is proven to be helpful for preventing urinary tract infections - perhaps grandmother was the wiser!
10 Is Gravity At Fault? - Lifting Your Legs In The Air
Although this is not exactly the way we would like to picture our grandmothers, this is one practice that most likely everyone has tried! This myth goes by the logic that by lifting your legs in the air for 20 minutes after sex, sperm gets a direct route to your eggs. Many women have even taken it up a notch by standing on their heads for a minute or two in hopes for a positive pregnancy test - anything to facilitate the journey.
As millions of sperm move up toward the cervical channel and into the fallopian tubes, there is no force great enough to stop this dynamism, not even gravity. Similarly, putting pillows under your bottom during intercourse to get an “advantageous” tilt or performing “cycling motions” with your feet in the air after the act will not influence the destination of the sperm.
Professor Adam Balen, Chair of the British Fertility Society states, “What’s very unhelpful in all biology textbooks is the pictorial representation of the female anatomy. It shows that the womb and the vagina are in a straight, vertical line. In reality that is not the case. The vagina is tilted and the womb is then tilted relative to the vagina and fallopian tubes and the ovaries, so it is not just one passage. So when you get up, many women think that everything is just going to fall out but anatomically that is not going to happen.” It seems we have the truth, straight up.
9 Stress And Infertility - Let Loose?
Your grandmother may have told you time and time again that stress plays a critical role in how soon you're able to get pregnant, but are these really words of the wise?
Writing for Psychology Today, Georgia Witkin rubbished Aunt Fannie’s advice to, 'just relax and then you’ll get pregnant’. Labeling it a “myth,” the professor pointed out that, “women can conceive under the most stressful circumstances if there is no physiological problem - even traumatized women and war prisoners often get pregnant.”
Of course, we know both physical and emotional stress can interfere with your menstrual cycle, but Witkin insists this doesn't directly extend to fertility. "When there is a fertility problem that follows stress, the stress was most likely a trigger for a pre-existing medical condition or predisposition," she explained.
While stress won't physically damage the quality of an egg or sperm, what it can do is cause behaviors that might do so. "For example, women may leave fertility treatment, harm their fertility through drugs, smoking, or drinking, avoid sex, postpone child-bearing, or not follow instructions for fertility medication [when they're stressed]," the expert said.
She makes quite a valid point when she further adds, "If reproductive systems are as vulnerable to stress as many believe, the human species would have perished long ago.”
Nevertheless, it’s probably best to try and take some of your grandmothers advice and let loose, creating an overall more positive and healthy experience.
8 Put Some Pepper Under Your Nose To Do Like The Greeks
We're sure grandmother would agree, the Ancient Greeks were one of the most advanced civilizations of the Ancient World. From philosophy to technology to zoology, they created some phenomenal inventions; many of which are still used today. However, one can’t help but question their sage advice on contraception - sneezing!
The famed Greek gynecologist, Soranus, who treated women in ancient Rome, documented that as a man ejaculates, his female partner “must hold her breath and draw herself away from a little, so that the seed may not be hurled too deep into the cavity of the uterus. And getting up immediately and squatting down, she should induce sneezing.” Essentially his method was meant to expel the semen from the woman’s body. We won’t let grandma know just how silly sneezing on command might seem to us, she was merely following the advice of a trusted culture which has introduced us to many wonders.
Interestingly enough, Soranus didn't limit his contraceptive methods to sneezing. He is also known for creating the rhythm method, planning intercourse around a woman's cycle, prescribed woman to jump backward seven times to dislodge the sperm and even counseled them to hold their breath and jump up and down. Still, Soranus was a highly respected doctor during his time and certainly contributed to keeping intimacy rather fascinating.
7 Will Crocodile Excrement Make Those Swimmers Turn Back?
In Ancient Egypt (circa 1800 BCE) the use of pessaries, which were vaginal suppositories — was quite common. They were usually made from various acidic substances, lubricated with honey.
Egyptian women often used the extraordinary ingredient of crocodile excrement to prevent pregnancy. After mixing the reptile’s feces with fermented dough, women would use it to block sperm from reaching their uterus. Similarly, other ancient peoples in India and the Middle East used elephant feces for a similar form of birth control.
Although this may be long before our grandmothers time, somebody’s grandmother was engaging in this historical ritual.
Putting aside for the moment the unsanitary nature of inserting animal feces inside one's body, it remains unknown how effective this method would have been. Crocodile dung has a high level of acidity, and its alkaline properties may have given it some effectiveness as a spermicide. The placement of the dung may have even blocked sperm from reaching their ultimate destination as well.
The oldest official information regarding contraception comes from the medical records of the Egyptian text Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus. This 4000-year-old document records crocodile dung as a highly esteemed practice. Not entirely convinced that our grandmothers would hold this myth in high regard.
6 Were Heart-Shaped Seeds Really The Key To Love?
In ancient times, women of various cultures attempted to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy through various means and practices, as evidenced by ancient records. Once upon a time, a strain of fennel, called silphium, was the closest thing the ancients had to the morning-after pill. For six centuries, women drank the plant’s heart-shaped seeds as some form of juice once a month for a natural contraceptive.
Unfortunately, our grandmothers will never have an opportunity prove it. Silphium apparently went extinct sometime in the first century CE, possibly due to over-harvesting for the purposes of ancient birth control.
John Riddle, the author of Eve’s Herbs, a history of contraceptives, argues that fennel-supported family planning may be the reason that the Roman population either stayed steady or decreased, even in periods of peace and prosperity, eras usually conducive to babies.
While silphium no longer exists, existent fennel relatives have been shown to contain ferujol, a compound effective at preventing pregnancy in rats; and wild carrot, another fennel cousin, have been shown to block the production of the hormone progesterone, essential for the uterine implantation of the fertilized egg.
In other words, it’s likely that silphium was a reliable birth-control agent, just as the ancients claimed. Grandmother may have never used fennel herself, but chances are she would have shared the tale if she could.
5 Risking A Kidney Is Worth It For Contraception
There were so many substances thought to prevent pregnancy in ancient times and not only were they usually unhealthy but lethal as well. In the ancient world, medieval medicines were written in legend and lore and inspired the arts of poets, playwrights, and philosophers.
Ancient Chinese women (usually prostitutes or the concubines of the emperor or members of his ruling party) drank lead, mercury, and arsenic, sometimes along with sixteen tadpoles to be unable to conceive despite the serious side effects of kidney failure, brain damage, even death.
Ancient Indian women used whatever ingredients that were readily available to them; potions made of powdered palm leaf and red chalk, cotton dipped in a blend of ghee (clarified butter), honey, and/or seeds of Kimshuka/Palasa tree and grand rock salt.
Canadian women drank tea made from beaver's parts to avoid conception. Ebers Papyrus (1550 BCE), the medical manuscript advised women to grind and make a paste of dates, acacia tree bark, and honey, apply this mixture to seed wool, and then insert that seed wool inside themselves for use as contraception.
Throughout most of human history, women were not as advanced as us in the choices made available to them. These rituals are of historical relevance, not merely for our grandmothers but for all women today.
4 Lemons Are Good For More Than Just Lemonade
Citric acid is said to have "swimmer killing" properties and women used to soak sponges in lemon juice before inserting them in themselves. Mentioned in the Talmud, this was a preferred method of birth control predominantly in ancient Jewish communities.
The sponge itself would act as a pessary; a physical barrier between the sperm and the cervix. Lemon and lime juice douches following coitus were also recommended as a form of birth control, but this method was likely less effective since sperm is out of reach of any douching within minutes of ejaculation.
The great womanizer Casanova was said to have inserted the rind of half a lemon into his lovers as a primitive cervical cap or diaphragm, the residual lemon juice serving to annihilate the sperm.
So, it appears spermicide isn’t a recent innovation. Lemon juice along with other acidic substances was tried long before modern spermicides landed in condoms. For extra protection, ancient people would even add honey to the lemon concoction to be rub onto the contraceptive sponge.
This may have certainly been a tale of folklore shared by your grandmother, great-grandmother and even your great-great-grandmother, discussed, although hushed, over refreshing beverages a hot summers day.
3 Some Fruits Will Prevent The Fruits Of Your Love
Beginning in the 16th century, Mesopotamian and Egyptian women found what they believed to be a sweet solution to their contraceptive needs. Women mixed the unripe fruit from the acacia tree with honey and grand dates. They soaked a piece of cotton or other plant fiber in the paste and inserted it like a tampon. This ancient method may have had some substance as Acacia gum ferments into lactic acid, which can act as a spermicide.
Papaya was another natural option to prevent pregnancy. Women in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other countries have long used green papaya as a folk remedy for contraception. Enslaved women in the West Indies were noted for consuming papaya to prevent pregnancies and thus preventing their children from being born into slavery.
The seeds of the papaya could actually serve as an effective male contraceptive as well. Papaya seeds, taken daily, could cut a man’s sperm count to zero and be safe for long-term use. Best of all, the sterility was reversible: if the man stopped taking the seeds, his sperm count would return to normal.
Papaya seeds have been studied more frequently in males than females as a form of contraception, but traditional cultures have used papaya seeds for both male and female contraception. In this instance, there is absolutely no harm in your grandmother slipping some into the afternoon tea.
2 Pomegranates The Fruit Of Our Dreams, Or Just A Trick?
Soranus, our Greek gynecologist, also advised to women in ancient times to use pomegranates as a method of contraception.
He believed that women should grind the inside of a fresh pomegranate peel, add water, and apply it vaginally. To make this contraceptive method more complex, Soranus offers alternative pomegranate recipes, such as two parts pomegranate peel to one part oak gall (a large growth on a tree caused by a certain type of insect) and equal parts pomegranate peel with rose oil and gum. After inserting the pomegranate internally, women “should always follow with a drink of honey water”.
Also, according to Soranus, Greek and Roman women who didn't want to conceive were advised to smear an ointment of old olive oil on the orifice of the uterus or cervix. Unlike his very precise pomegranate recipes, Soranus was fairly lax about the process to make this primitive spermicide. He suggested that women could use olive oil, honey, cedar resin, or balsam tree juice, with or without white lead. He most likely learned about this olive oil contraceptive method from Aristotle, who also advocated that women put olive oil or cedar oil to slow the sperms' motility.
Both Soranus and Aristotle are historical legends in Ancient Greek culture, but did they really have one up on grandmother?
1 Could Your Female Ancestors Really Help You Out?
In ancient times when pregnancy was believed to be controlled by spirits, the sun, or the moon, people used myths, rituals, dances, and amulets as popular means to control fertility and conception. Birth control methods were quietly passed on from woman to woman. Perhaps these practices would have spooked your grandmother, but we're quite positive she was open to the intrigue!
It’s been long believed that in certain cultures the moon was believed to be the power of conception. The origins of the lunar effect theory, the idea that cycles of female fertility follow the cycles of the moon — date back to ancient Assyrian writings, but this myth has lived on despite scientific evidence. One version of the theory proposes that female fertility corresponds with the moon because both the lunar cycle and the menstrual cycle occur every twenty-eight days. Also, in some cultures, women tried to sleep away from the reach of the moonlight to avoid pregnancy.
Other bizarre rituals included women who believed throwing corn kernels, apples or nails into a well would help them avoid conception; while in other cultures, women trusted that spitting three times into a frog's mouth was a good way of preventing pregnancy. Many postulated that walking over the graves of dead female ancestors was believed to prevent unwanted pregnancy. European women held faith that they could avoid/prevent unwanted pregnancy by turning back the wheel of a grain mill four times at midnight.
These rituals may seem absurd to us in this modern day, but we cannot downplay their significance to societies of ancient civilizations. Our grandmothers taught us to keep an open mind when it comes to cultural differences, even if it doesn't always make sense.
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