Rabbits Foot as a Good Luck Charm To possess any part of a rabbit ~ tail, ear, foot or dried innards ~ assured a person's good fortune. Interestingly, the foot was always the preferred totem, believed to be luckier than any other body part. Why the foot? Folklorists claim that long before Freudian sexual interpretations existed, man, in his cave drawings and stone sculptures, incorporated the foot as a phallic symbol, a totem to foster fertility in women and a cornucopian harvest in the fields.
Swinging Although most people think that the swinging lifestyle began in the 1950s, this is not correct. For as long as humans have walked the face of this earth there have been swingers. In ancient times in most places including many European countries, African countries, Egypt, many Asian countries and Iran, swinging was a very early form of sexual expression. Having many lovers, concubines, consorts, sex slaves, or partners was an accepted practice. Originally having multiple wives was very acceptable within the Jewish culture and it remains acceptable amongst many Mormons to this day. It wasn't until much more recent history that Puritans and other Christians began to define sexual morality, making swinging and polyamory unacceptable and shunned.
The terms "swinging" and "the swinging lifestyle" were coined by a minister during the last century in order to label individuals who chose to have sex with other individuals to whom they were not married. The minister was trying compare these consenting adults to monkeys, swinging from bed to bed as a monkey might swing from tree to tree. Little did he know that soon the term would be reclaimed by the swingers themselves!
In ancient times there were baths, but for the most part the swinging scene was not structured the same way that it is today. In the 1940s private groups of religious couples would sometimes decide that since they didn't believe in divorce they would instead swing to gain their sexual pleasures. They would throw private wife swapping parties, and at that time this type of sexual freedom was not referred to as swinging. In the 1950s swingers personals began to show up. Sandstone, an alternative lifestyle community in California, produced a video approximately twenty years ago and this model was used to develop many modern swing clubs. Now swingers can often find swing clubs, both on and off premise, private swing parties, alternative and/or swinging ads in many personals sections, and even conventions, camp-outs, cruises, tours, and fun retreat weekends specifically designed for swingers by the North American Swing Club Association (NASCA). Although in the 1940s swinging consisted of Christian couples swapping wives, now there is the potential for a lot more diversity in the lifestyle. Clubs can specialize in many different sub-swing categories, such as lesbian S&M swing, single men allowed, fetish swingers, SMBD swingers, gay male swing, etc. Now that some individuals have given up adherence to one major sexual taboo/restriction, monogamy, many of these rebels have also given up on many other taboos that lead to very vanilla/limited sexual expression and feel more free to find other things that titillate and excite them.
Currently most swingers, about 80-90% in fact, are closet swingers. Sadly it is still not safe for most people to be open about their non-traditional sexual behavior due to discrimination and hate. As more individuals choose to fully express themselves sexually and "come out" as swingers, the risk will decrease as will societal ignorance. The swing community has changes drastically over the last 60 years and it will be very interesting to see how it further progresses during the 21st century.
Wishbone A custom that is at least 2,400 years old, and it originated with the Etruscans, an ancient people who occupied an Italian peninsula. Etruscans believed the hen and the cock to be soothsayers (fortune tellers): The hen because she foretold the laying of an egg with a squawk; the cock because his crow heralded the dawn of a new day. When a sacred fowl was killed, the bird's collarbone was laid in the sun to dry. An Etruscan still wishing to benefit from the oracle's powers had only to pick up the bone and stroke it (not break it) and make a wish; hence the name "wishbone." Romans, who later adopted many Etruscan ways, suggest that the practice of two people's tugging at a clavicle for the larger half sprang from a simple case of supply and demand: Too few sacred bones, too many people wishing for favors. Why did the Etruscans not regard all the thin bones of a fowl's skeleton as wishbones? According to Roman legend, the Etruscans chose the V-shaped clavicle for a symbolic reason: It resembles the human crotch! Thus, a symbol of the repository of life was employed to unravel life's mysteries.
Tying Old Shoes to Newlyweds Cars Today a custom that we never see except in old cartoons and drawings, but we all can visualize in our heads (at least those of us who are old enough). Originally, shoes were only one of many objects tossed at a bride to wish her a bounty of children. In fact, shoes were preferred over the equally traditional wheat and rice because from ancient times the foot was a powerful phallic symbol. In several cultured, particularly among the Eskimos, a woman experiencing difficulty in conceiving was instructed to carry a piece of an old shoe with her at all times. The preferred shoes for throwing at a bride ~ and later for tying to the newlywed's car ~ were old ones strictly for economic reasons. Shoes have never been inexpensive.
Thus, the throwing of shoes, rice, cake crumbs, and confetti, as well as the origin of the wedding cake, are all expressions for a fruitful union. It is not without irony that in our age, with such strong emphasis on delayed childbearing and family planning, the modern wedding ceremony is replete with customs meant to induce maximum fertility.
White Wedding Dress / Veil Historians of fashion claim that the facial veil was strictly a male invention, and one of the oldest devices designed to keep married women humble, subservient, and hidden from other males. Although the veil at various times throughout its long history also served as a symbol of elegance, intrigue, modesty and mourning, it is one article of feminine attire the women may never have created for themselves.
Originating in the East at least 4,000 years ago, veils were worn throughout life by unmarried women as a sign of modesty and by married women as a sign of submissiveness to their husbands. In Muslim religions, a woman was expected to cover her head and part of her face whenever she left the house. As time passed, rules (made by men) became stricter and only a woman's eyes were permitted to remain uncovered ~ a concession to necessity, since ancient veils were of heavy weaves, which interfered with vision.
Yellow was the preferred color for centuries as a bride's attire. White has denoted purity and virginity. White was a visual statement of a bride's virginity ~ so obvious and public a statement that it did not please everyone. Clergymen, for instance, felt that virginity, a marriage prerequisite, should not have to be so blatantly advertised. A bride's white wedding ensemble is of comparatively recent origin, by the late eighteenth century. White had become the standard wedding color. Fashion historians claim this was due mainly to the fact that most gowns of the time were white; that white was the color of formal fashion. In 1813, the first fashion plate of a white wedding gown and veil appeared in a French magazine, Journal des Dames. From that point onward, the style was set.
Birth Control For tens of thousands of years, the only contraceptive method was coitus interruptus, in which the man withdraws to ejaculate outside the woman's body. With the emergence of writing about 5,500 years ago, a record of birth control methods ~ from the bizarre to the practical ~ entered history.
Every culture sought its own foolproof method to prevent contraception. In ancient China, women were advised to swallow quicksilver (mercury) heated in oil. It may well have worked, since mercury is highly toxic and probably poisoned the fetus ~ and to a lesser extent, the mother.
A less harmful procedure was practiced by Egyptian women. Before intercourse, a woman was advised to insert a mixture of crocodile dung and honey into her vagina. While the viscous honey might have served as a temporary obstacle to impede sperm from colliding with an egg, it is more likely that the salient ingredient was dung: Its sharp acidity could alter the pH environment necessary for conception to occur, killing the sperm. In effect, it was history's first spermicide.
Egyptian birth control methods are the oldest on record. The Petri Papyrus, written about 1850 B.C. and the Eber Papyrus, composed three hundred years later, describe numerous methods to avert pregnancy. For the man, in addition to coitus interruptus there was the dangerous coitus obstructus, which is full intercourse, with the ejaculate forced into the bladder through the depression of the base of the urethra. (The papyri also contain an early mention of how women handled menstruation: Egyptian women used a homemade tampon-shaped device composed of shredded linen and crushed acacia branch powder, later known as gum Arabic, an emulsion stabilizer use din paints, candy and medicine.)
Contraceptive methods assumed additional importance in the free-spirited Rome of the second and third centuries A.D. Soranus of Ephesus, a Greek gynecologist practicing in Rome, clearly understood the difference between contraceptives, which prevent conception, and abortifacients, which eject the egg after it's fertilized. And he taught (correctly, though dangerously) that permanent female sterility could be achieved through repeated abortions. He also advised (incorrectly) that immediately following intercourse, women cough, jump and sneeze to expel sperm.
Spermicides were a popular birth control method in the Near and Middle East. In ancient Persia, women soaked natural sea sponges in a variety of liquids believed to kill sperm ~ alcohol, iodine, quinine, and carbolic acid ~ and inserted them in the vagina before intercourse. Syrian sponges, from local waters, were highly prized for their absorptivity, and perfumed vinegar water, highly acidic, was a preferred spermidice.
In the ancient world, physical, as opposed to chemical, means of birth control were also available.
Cervical Cap. From about the sixth century BC, physicians conceived of countless cap-like devices for the female to insert over the opening of the cervix. Greek doctors advised women to scoop out the seeds of a pomegranate half to obtain a sperm-blocking cap. Centuries later, Casanova, the Italian gambler and celebrated lover, presented his mistresses with partially squeezed lemon halves. The lemon shell acted as a physical barrier, and its juice as an acidic spermicide. A highly effective cervical cap appeared in Germany in 1870. The cap was a hollow rubber hemisphere with a watch spring around the head to secure it in place. Known as the "Dutch Cap" it was supposed to be 98 percent effective ~ as good as today's diaphragms.
IUD. The scant documentation of the origin of intrauterine devices is attributable to their mysterious function in preventing conception. It is known that during the Middle Ages, Arabs used IUDs to thwart conception in camels during extended desert journeys. Using a hollow tube, an Arab herder slid a small stone into a camel's uterus. Astonishingly, not until the late 1970s did doctors begin to understand how an IUD works. The foreign object, metal or plastic today, is treated as an invader in the uterus and attacked the body's white blood cells. Part of the white cells' arsenal of weapons is the antiviral compound interferon. It's believed that interferon kills sperm, preventing conception.
The Arab practice with camels led to a wide variety of foreign objects being inserted into animal and human uteruses: Beads of glass and ebony, metals, buttons, horsehair and spools of silver threads, to mention a few. However, the first truly effective metal-coil IUD was the "silver loop," about three fifths of an inch in diameter, the loop had adequate elasticity, though as with many later IUDs, some women developed pelvic inflammation. Throughout history, there were physicians in all cultures who advised women to douche immediately after intercourse, believing this alone was an effective contraceptive measure. But modern research has shown that within ten seconds after the male ejaculates, some sperm may already have swum from the vaginal canal in the cervix, where douching is ineffective.
From crocodile dung to douching, all ancient contraceptive methods were largely hit or miss, with the responsibility of preventing conception falling upon the female. Then, in the sixteenth century, an effective means of male contraception arose: The condom.
Condom. Prior to the sixteenth century, did no physician think of simply placing a sheath over the penis during intercourse?
Penile sheaths in the sixteenth century were dullingly thick, made from animal gut and fish membranes in addition to linen. They interfered with a man's pleasure. And most doctors were men. Thus, sheaths were seldom recommended or used. Since they interfered with the pleasure of intercourse and only occasionally prevented disease ~ being improperly used, and reused unwashed ~ they were unpopular with men and regarded with derision. Penile sheaths did exist, though. There is evidence that the Romans and Egyptians used oiled animal bladders and lengths of intestine as sheaths. However, their purpose was not primarily to prevent the woman from becoming pregnant but to protect the man against catching venereal disease, which at most ran rampant. When it came to birth control, men preferred to let women take the lead.
Italian anatomist Gabriel Fallopius, the sixteenth-century physician who first described the two slender tubes that carry ova from the ovaries to the uterus (named for him, the fallopian tubes), designed a medicated linen sheath that fit over the gland, or tip of the penis, and secured by the foreskin. It represents the first clearly documented prophylactic for the male member. Soon sheaths appeared for circumcised men. They were a standard eight inches long and tied securely at the base with a pink ribbon, presumably to appeal to the female. Fallopius' invention was tested on over one thousand men "with complete success."
How did Fallopius' invention come to be named condoms? Legend has it that the word from the Earl of Condom, the knighted personal physician to England's King Charles II in the mid-1600s. Charles' pleasure-loving nature was notorious. He had countless mistresses and though he sired no legitimate heirs, he produced innumerable bastards throughout the realm. Dr. Condom was requested to produce a means of protecting the king from syphilis. His solution was a sheath of stretched and oiled intestine of sheep. (It is not known if he was aware of Fallopius' invention of a hundred years earlier.) Dr. Condom's sheath caught the attention of noblemen at court, who adopted the prophylactics, also against venereal disease. Sexually transmitted disease was feared far more than siring illegitimate children. Only in the 20th century, when penicillin laid to rest men's dread of syphilis, did the condom come to be viewed as protection primarily against pregnancy.
A condom made of vulcanized rubber appeared in the 1870s and from the start acquired the popular name "rubber." It was not yet film thin, sterile and disposable. A man was instructed to wash his rubber before and after intercourse, and he reused one until it cracked or tore. Effective and relatively convenient, it was still disliked for its dulling of sensation during intercourse. Thinner modern latex rubber would not be introduced until the 1930s.
The Pill. No event in the history of contraception has had a more profound effect on birth control than the introduction of an oral contraceptive. "The Pill" as it quickly became known, contains hormone-like substances that enter the bloodstream and disrupt the production of ova and ovulation.
The pill originated in an unexpected discovery made in the tropical jungles of Mexico in the 1930s. There, chemistry professor Russell Marker from Pennsylvania was experimenting with a group of plant steroids known as sapogenins, which produce a soaplike foam in water. He discovered a chemical process that transformed the sapogenin diosgenin into the human female sex hormone progesterone. The wild Mexican yam, cabeza de negro, proved to be a rich source of the hormone precursor.
At that time, progesterone was used to treat menstrual disorders and prevent miscarriages. But the drug was available only from European pharmaceutical companies, and methods of preparing it were laborious and costly. Marker was unable to acquire financial backing from an American pharmaceutical company to pursue synthetic progesterone research. He rented a laboratory in Mexico City, collected ten tons of yams, and at his own expense isolated pure diosgenin. Back in the United States, he synthesized more than 2,000 grams of progesterone. The synthesis was far simpler than the traditional methods in Europe and in time it would bring down the price of sex steroids.
Researchers in the late 1940s began to reevaluate and continue to research the possibility of an oral contraceptive. Chemist Gregory Pincus at the Worchester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, MA, tested a yam-derived ovulation inhibitor norethynodrel, on over 1,000 volunteers in Puerto Rico in 1958. It established menstrual regularity and was an effective contraceptive. Searle Pharmaceuticals applied for FDA approval to market norethynodrel. Despite intense opposition from religious groups opposed to birth control, research and marketing efforts continued and in 1960 women across America were introduced to Enovid, history's first oral contraceptive. By the end of 1961, a half-million American women were on the pill, and that number more than doubled the following year.
Since that time, drug companies have worked to develop a variety of safer versions of oral contraceptives, with fewer side effects. None of today's oral contraceptives, taken by approximately seventy million women worldwide, contains the original yam derivative norethynodrel. Researchers believe that oral contraceptives will remain women's major birth control aid until the introduction of the anti-pregnancy vaccine that will offer several years' immunization against conception, the Depo-Provera, followed with the Ortho-Evra birth control patches.
Vasectomy. In the century when Dr. Condom supposedly introduced sheaths to England, fellow British physicians performed the first vasectomy. Although the means of cutting and cauterizing the male tubes was crude, the surgery was supposed to be effective, though never reversible, as a vasectomy usually is today.
It was also in the seventeenth century that a major human reproductive principle was confirmed ~ the union of sperm and egg. Early physicians did not realize that conception required a sperm to collide with a female's egg. For centuries no one even suspected that an egg existed. Men, and only men, were responsible for the continuation of the species. Physicians assumed that the male ejaculate contained "tiny people" who grew into human beings after being deposited in a woman's uterus. Contraceptive methods were a means of halting the march of "tiny people" to the nurturing uterus. In the sixteenth century, Gabriel Fallopius described the tubes connecting the ovaries to the uterus, and in 1677 Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch harberdasher constructed the first quality microscope and identified sperm cells, half the reproductive story. Clearly, semen was not composed of "tiny people" ~ sperm had to unite with an egg, and women did make half the contribution to the production of offspring, a role that in the past had often been denied them.
"Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So....get on your way." Dr Seuss