Herbs & Magic: Contraceptive Methods in the Middle Ages

By Daniel Kemper
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Herbs & Magic: Contraceptive Methods in the Middle Ages
Herbs & Magic: Contraceptive Methods in the Middle Ages
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Sexual intercourse in the Middle Ages

The Catholic Church had a very narrow view on the subject of sex. First of all, there were certain days when people (even in a marriage) were not allowed to have sexual intercourse. These days included Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition, there are holidays such as Christmas or All Saints’ Day. During the lady’s period, she was impure and therefore the act was also sinful. The same was true as long as the woman was breastfeeding.


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Fun was equally forbidden, for the rest, sexual intercourse was allowed to serve the sole purpose of procreation. The church allowed only one position in which society could have sex in the Middle Ages, and that was the missionary position. Those who did not follow the rules or tried other practices committed a very great sin.

The church punished masturbation equally harshly when the clergy witnessed it. An exception to this is the wet dream. Only intentional acts are punished.

Church forbade contraceptive methods in the Middle Ages

First of all, it must be said that the understanding of the conception of a child was different than nowadays. Within a marriage, it was solely God’s will whether or not a child would result. Contraceptive methods in the Middle Ages would accordingly oppose God’s will, and this was not permitted.

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Thus, in the Middle Ages, in addition to abortion and infanticide, actual contraception was punishable. Offenses of this kind were sometimes punished by death, which is why men were beheaded and women hanged if they used contraception.
Despite all the prohibitions, of course, people still practiced sex on their own terms.

What could the gentlemen do for contraception?

The most commonly used contraceptive was coitus interruptus. Here, the man pulls his member out of the vagina before he ejaculated. Another not-so-effective contraceptive method was for the man to rub vinegar on his penis.

Herbs & Magic: Contraceptive Methods in the Middle Ages

Since these practices were very unsafe, people saw an advantage in using a condom. The first condom, as it is explained in writing, Casanova used in the 18th century. But the latter wanted to protect himself from diseases such as syphilis rather than from uninvited children. This kind of condoms were made of fish bladders or animal intestines.

Two other safe methods of contraception in the Middle Ages were anal sex or the use of a chastity belt. The chastity belt first appears in records in 1400 AD.

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Gentlemen who really do not want descendants should live chastely or castrate themselves. This was done by heating their testicles. After the hanger is very heated, someone crushes the testicles until only soft would be felt. If this was not safe enough, the man had the option to peel out the testicles with a knife.

Methods of contraception in the Middle Ages for the female sex

In the past, people believed that dishonorable women gave birth to fewer children because the vagina became slippery from frequent sex. This prevents the sperm from holding on there. In reality, however, women knew how to use contraception.

One of the contraceptive methods in the Middle Ages was to rinse the sexual organs with solutions. They could do this either with the help ofsyringe-like devices or in sitz baths. These liquids were mixed with herbs. Thus, one should try to make the climate in the vagina unfriendly for the sperm of the man.

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For rinsing and cleaning the vagina, women used plants that were considered particularly healthy orspermicidal .

Also, doctors of the time advised women to take special herbs and fruits orally in order to conceive in the body. An example of this is eating the pomegranate seeds, before and after lovemaking.

Unlike the pomegranate, the ingestion of some of these herbs was not harmless.
If the egg woman was already fertilized, certain herbs promise relief. These herbs were ergot, ivy or garden rue and were used for external application or for eating.

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Also popular were so-called vaginal suppositories. These consisted, for example, of crocodile dung or vinegar sponges. It has a contraceptive effect in that it alters the pH of the womb, providing a natural barrier.

The suppository is made by crushing the feces in fermented plant mucilage. Then insert it into the vagina. The sponges, on the other hand, you dip in vinegar and introduced immediately before sex. However, this often resulted in major damage to the vagina.

As bizarre as these contraceptive methods sound in the Middle Ages, these two practices worked.

Magic against unwanted pregnancies

To successfully prevent pregnancy, people thought that a spell or prayer after the act would be effective.

For example, before penetration, the woman inserts a fluoride crystal into the vagina. Apart from the insertion, they wore certain necklaces and bracelets to protect themselves from pregnancy.

On the other hand, if a woman did not get pregnant even though she wanted to, it was because she did not pray enough.

The last methods of contraception in the Middle Ages were, of course, not effective and were based purely on superstition.

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