Last week, Jen wrote in the comments to our discussion about sexless romance, It almost bugs me when the historicals do have sex, because I know there are some primative birth control methods, but the heroines never seem to use them.
I have to admit to being a complete noob when it comes to the history of birth control options. I’ve read a fair share of romances wherein the hero uses a sheath of one sort or another, or introduces the heroine to such a device for pre-marital canoodling, but female birth control options? I have been pondering the idea for a good few hours now, and I’m having a hard time remembering a romance wherein the heroine practiced birth control. I recall a few “chicken’s bladder of blood” scenarios to hide an absence of virginity, but active birth control usage in an historical? My memory, admittedly, is horrible, but I’m drawing a blank.
But as Jen points out, there were historical methods available. Cast Western even has an entire collection of historical birth control devices, which includes the IUD and crocodile dung.
The Wikipedia article is particularly interesting, including this ‘misconception:’
Sneezing or urinating after sex are also completely ineffective, they do not prevent pregnancy and are not forms of birth control.
But alas it does not describe what folks did way, way back in the day, when locked in passion in the way back seat – if the carriage even had a way back seat.
Other articles, including one from Yale discuss varying types of suppositories and barrier methods, indicate that with the exception of the modern birth control pill in 1960, “there are no new methods” of birth control.
So why isn’t there birth control amongst the heroines in historical romance? I’d say there’s two reasons: one, it’s just not sexy. But more importantly, it messes up that odd requirement of sexual purity for the heroine. Candy and I were discussing this recently – there is a demand and expectation of virginity on the part of the heroine, and if there is an absence of hymen due to a man who is not the hero, it’s explained by several weary plot devices. Either, for example, she’s a widow (who of course has never known an orgasm), or she’s been induced into sexual relations by some nefarious and pitiable reasons that serve to restore nobility to her non-virginal self. The issue of virginity casts a wide shadow on heroines in historical romance, even as my cursory search for historical birth control revealed a number of folkloric methods that might easily have been passed from maid to maiden lady.
What’s your take? Are there romances that feature contraceptive-savvy heroines? Or are virginity and sexual purity a pair of powerful expectations on the part of the reader to the point where contraceptive knowledge would damage the heroine in our eyes?