The Duggars and Casanova

Dear Millicent,

In honor of the Duggars’ announcement of expecting their 19th child, I offer some of the interesting tidbits I have gathered while reading Medical History of Contraception by Norman E. Himes.  I got the book while on a lark at the public library, and have enjoyed it immensely.  I have no idea how sound its findings are, as it was published in 1936, and Himes, an economist,  writes in his introduction how difficult it was to find many resources because of their blue nature, delegated to a library’s private collection, uncatalogued (and locked in private cabinets!), where the masses wouldn’t stumble into such knowledge.

He set out to gather a global history of contraception.  He wrote to experts world wide, and pulled from travel narratives and historical texts.   His overall thesis is that contraception  has been a universal aim since the beginning, with each society working towards the desire of “adequate parenthood.” [emphasis mine].

In response to the rising democratization of birth control at the time, and the moral outcry against it, he says of the “propagandists,” “They have merely crystallized a discontent–or, if you will a constructive desire–which dates from pre-history.”

Some highlights:

  • “A rather unusual practice, that of the male sucking the semen from the vagina, is reported as in vogue among the Marquesans of Oceania.”
  • But wait, there’s more: “When a group of men went out with one woman, and had intercourse in rapid succession, publicly, which was a common amusement, the last man had to suck semen from her vagina. This was sometimes practiced in individual intercourse as well.  I believe it that this is true,” writes a visiting doctor, “although it sounds improbable; for the excitement of women with the tongue was a regular part of love play.”
  • Some groups held that babies were made from layers of semen that accumulated over time.
  • Some groups didn’t connect babies with sex as much as with cohabitation.
  • In the Indian archipelago and East Indies, women purposefully tilted or retroflexed the uterus through massage.
  • Aboriginal women in Australia “expelled semen through violent abdominal movements after coitus with white men.” This technique appears again and again as the book continues, and made me think about belly dancing.
  • The Talmud suggests that the sponge was created to avoid coitus interruptus, which had the fascinating euphemism “ploughing in the garden and emptying upon the dunghill.”
  • Casanova recommended the use of a gold ball to be inserted “at the temple of love” before sex.  He has three made by a Genovese blacksmith, the idea being that the supposed alkalinity of the metal would do some good work.  Himes wonders, “would it tend to fall out by virtue of its weight?”
  • A more effective technique of Casanova’s was the half lemon cervical cap.

Oh, there is much more.  The classics seem to be the withdrawal method (from Brantome’s The Life of Gallant Ladies, “like the noble lady said to her lover “Do what you will, and give me delight, but on your life have  a care to let no drop reach me.”), drinking mysterious roots that only certain people know how to find, vaginal pessaries and washes (all usually chemically harsh for such a sensitive area), and special oils rubbed on the penis (pretty rare, again showing the historical lack of male birth control…there are a few alternatives, but the women seem the most concerned, throughout).

As for the Duggars…I’m ready to see less of the fertility parade.  This old book proves that procreation is not such a simple drama of announcements and corporate sponsors.  Faith and science are part of the cultural package, especially highlighted by the range of fertile reality television families.  My reaction to their countless Today Show appearances is much like when my grandmother pursed her lips whenever a pregnant woman wore tight and revealing maternity clothes.  “When I was a kid,  you never saw those shapes,” she said once, “you kept it to yourself.”   I disagree with her degree of prudery, but I can see the source of the irritation–there is something arrogant in procreation, arrogant and incredibly vulnerable.  To see it treated lightly and righteously is disconcerting.




2 Responses to The Duggars and Casanova

  1. Millicent says:

    Dearest CF,

    What a marvel you’ve unearthed. What I like best about it all is Himes’ tone in the quotes you supply: he seems curious and a bit startled but always just this side of the thin blue line, even when describing Marquesan semen-sucking. (Although it’s telling in that quote that “man” gets scientifically turned to “male” but “suck” goes gloriously unconverted … he could’ve said “extract,” he could’ve said “suctioned,” but really? It had to be “suck.”)

    What does it mean to retroflex a uterus??? And holy-moly, those aboriginal wombs must have had exquisite tone. (Or could this have been female ejaculation?)

    To think no one has done a publicity tour on uteral toning yet. CF, I think we have a book!

    Also, I have somehow managed to escape the Duggars except for one over-packed photo on 60 minutes or something, but I’m interested in your irritation. Is it that pregnancy used to be a smug secret and now the Duggars et al. make it crass and self-promoting?

    • Carla Fran says:

      I think things get complicated with the Duggars because they are Quiverfulls, I stop and wonder how their insistence or right and might is any different from the super invitro families…why do I want to judge them harder than Nadya Suleman of the Gosselins?

      My immediate distaste for them seems rooted in the lack of respect for environmental impact (they have a 21 seat passenger bus as a car!), even though all large families, and most Americans, generally, are guilty here.

      And then, the idea of women actively birthing as many baby’s as possible to build God’s army is repugnant. I get really itchy at the overall celebration of the Duggards. Their presentation (on TLC, Good Morning America, etc) emphasizes their strong values and clean living…while they are BUILDING AN ARMY!

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