It is often said that sex work is the world’s oldest profession.
For most of history, there was no IUD or IUS, no contraceptive pill, no hysterectomy, no diaphragm and no condom, at least not in the form we know them today.
But women, since the beginning of time, have been ridiculously practical. Sex workers in particular went to enormous lengths to ensure that sex didn’t result in pregnancy.
Here are just a few of them.
In Victorian England, sex with sex workers often took place outside, and in order to keep their clothes clean, the woman would stand upright with the man entering her from behind. This was called the ‘thruppenny’, an abbreviation of ‘three pennies’ which is how much sex cost at the time.
Because so many of their clients were drunk, women would hold the penis between their thighs – simulating sex without actually allowing the man to penetrate them.
Mia Freedman talks about having a Mirena insterted on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.
Sexual acts that don’t involve the penis entering the vagina
Whether it’s graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, or pottery from the Moche civilisation of Peru, history tells us that sex workers often engaged in sex that didn’t involve vaginal penetration. Many archaeologists believe that the depiction of oral sex, and even anal sex were instructional, teaching people at the time how to enjoy sex without falling pregnant. The Kama Sutra, composed somewhere between 400 BCE and 200 CE, outlines a variety of different sexual acts, some of which don’t include penetration. Since the beginning of time it would seem, men and women have explored their sexuality far beyond intercourse.
The withdrawal method
Ancient texts, including the Book of Genesis, refer to ‘coitus interruptus’, otherwise known as the withdrawal method. It is understood to be the first form of contraception ever practised, and was widely documented in Ancient Rome.
The makeshift diaphragm
Placing half a lemon inside the vagina was a method of contraception dating back to the Old Testament era. It acted like a cervical cup, and lemon juice was understood to have spermicidal qualities. Casanova, known as the “world’s greatest lover”, wrote in the 1700s of his partners who used lemon to keep sperm from entering their cervix.
In Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, women placed honey, acacia leaves and lint in the vagina in an attempt to block sperm.
In about 1850 BC, women in Egypt created a pessary, which was a concoction of crocodile dung, honey and sodium carbonate. After mixing and allowing it to dry, women would insert the clay-like matter into their vagina in order to block sperm. It was one of the first proto-diaphragms.
Other cultures, particularly those close to the coast, used actual sponges found in the ocean. They served as almost a plug, preventing anything from entering the cervix. In Africa, women used chopped grass or cloth, in Japan, sex workers used balls of bamboo tissue paper, and Islamic and Greek women used wool.
Most interestingly, in both Ancient Rome, and in the United States in the 19th Century, it was said that sex workers placed pennies inside their vagina. As bizarre as it sounds, it's interesting that the contemporary Paragard IUD is copper, because it creates an abortifacient environment. It seems they really weren't that far off.