While there are still some questionable vagina trends in 2018, be glad that at least everyone’s evolved past spanking as a fertility treatment and leeching your cervix as a miracle period cure — which yes, actually happened. Here, some of the craziest vagina advice women received throughout history, explained by Lydia Kang, MD, and co-author of Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything with Nate Pederson, and ranked by how visceral my full-body reaction was to hearing about these.
12. Public Spanking to Increase Fertility
Apparently Romans way-back-when thought that spanking a newlywed woman would increase her fertility. This belief was so widely held that the Romans even had Lupercalia, which, as the authors write in Quackery, was “Basically a public orgy, [where] naked men roamed the streets spanking any woman they came across.”
11. Trying to Chase Around a “Wandering” Uterus with Odor
The Ebers Papyrus, which was an Egyptian medical papyrus dating back to 1550 BCE, suggested chasing a woman’s uterus around with certain smells as a general treatment for gynecological issues. They believed a “wandering” uterus to be the cause of most problems, and to rectify this, they’d use smelly feet near a woman’s nose to encourage a uterus into moving downwards, or try encouraging a high-uterus downwards by putting sweet scents near a woman’s vagina. Of course, you can’t actually PacMan your uterus and chase it around your body, but they didn’t know that back then.
10. Garlic on Your Vagina to Test Fertility
Among Hippocrates’ many incorrect ideas about gynecological health, was the idea that a woman’s mouth and vagina were united by a single “freeway,” as the authors put it. To test out if a woman’s baby-making parts were up to par, they’d rub garlic on her vagina and see if they could smell garlic on her breath. If so, it meant her mouth-genital highway was traffic-free and thus, fertile.
9. Pelvic Massage As Administered by a Doctor to Cure Hysteria
In the Victorian era, doctors would administer “pelvic massages” to induce orgasm as a cure for hysteria (a catch-all term doctors used for anything ranging from fatigue, anxiety, and depression). These massages weren’t seen as a sexual thing, even though it was almost always male doctors performing them on female patients. Eventually, the invention of an electromechanical vibrator came into play and “relieved” doctors from having to perform pelvic massages by hand. The authors even note that many doctors complained about having to perform the massages, and that performing the massages for an hour would cause them to get wristaches. I’d say I feel bad for them, but I feel much, much worse for the women.
8. Egg-White and Mothball Tampons as a Cure-All
According to the Trotula, a medieval women’s medicine text from Italy, the cure for itching of the vagina was camphor (mothballs) and egg white to create a pessary. “A pessary, by the way,” Kang explained over email, “is an object placed into the vagina. So basically, it’s an egg-white and mothball tampon of sorts, to treat anything (yeast infection or STI that might cause itching).”
7. Bugbombing Your Vagina with a Truly Heinous Version of a Medieval S’more
The Trotula also suggested “fumigating the vagina with a mixture of burned marsh mallow, barley flour, and egg whites” to bring on a late period. Suddenly my recent DIY yoni steam experiment is looking even dumber.
6. Catherine de Medici’s Stank Cure for Infertility
Kang explains that Catherine de Medici, the queen of France in the mid 1500s, “drank the urine of a mare and then soaked her vagina with a mixture of manure and ground stag antlers.” Because what could inspire procreation more than that smell?
5. Leeches on Your Cervix for Menstrual Afflictions
Back in the 1800s when bloodletting was all the rage, it wasn’t just limited to leeching your skin or limbs. “For menstrual afflictions,” Kang and Pederson write, “[leeches] would be placed on the upper thighs, vulva, and sometimes directly on the cervix.” The leech’s saliva had special anesthetizing agents so the patient wouldn’t feel the bite, but does that make things more terrifying or comforting? All I know is I just locked eyes with my trusty bottle of purse Ibuprofen and said a little prayer.
4. Making a Paste for Your Cervix Using the Same Stuff They Use for Taxidermy and or Gunpowder
Hippocrates recommended a recipe of red nitre, cumin, resin, and honey to be applied to a woman’s cervix as a cure for infertility. While no one is 100% positive on what the red nitre he was referring to was, Kang and Pederson say it could either be potassium nitrate (used in pickling corned beef and the making of fireworks and gunpowder) or soda ash (what the Egyptians used to mummify people and more commonly, in taxidermy now.) It doesn’t really matter what it was though, because as the authors point out, the whole point of the mixture was to irritate the cervix so badly that it opened up for childbirth.
3. Arsenic for Your Bikini Line
While pubic hair grooming might seem like a new-world thing, Kang explains that it’s actually been around for a minute. “Throughout history, removal of pubic hair has been popular depending on the time or culture.” Kang said. “Interestingly, since medieval times (and possibly before), the poisonous element arsenic had a side effect of causing hair loss and was used as a depilatory.” All the more reason to not eff with your pubic hair!
2. Making Up for a Light Period, Medieval-Style
Kang and Pederson explain in their book the Trotula’s go-to cure if a woman’s period was “deficient”. Simply “bleed the woman from the arch on the inside of her foot.” Can you imagine? “Hey doc, my period isn’t heavy enough this month and I’d really like to make up for it so can you just stick me with whatever rusty-ass knife you probably have lying around since it’ll be 600 years until we discover germ theory ha ha hope I’m the first one in my family to make it to 22 before dropping dead but probably not.”
1. Lysol Douching
Say it with me. You. Do. Not. Need. To. Perfume. Your. Vagina. Unfortunately the idea of women’s vaginas as inherently nasty and needing perfume and fragrances to mask any natural odor has been around for a while now, and I am very sorry to share this doozy with you. From the 1920s-1950s, Kang explains, Lysol douching for “freshness” and contraceptive purposes was very popular. This was a bad idea because obviously, the stuff you use to scrub your dirty toilet should not be in your body, and women suffered burns and ulcers as a result. Lest you think everyone’s come a long way since then, Kang also adds that even as late as the 1970s, Coca-Cola douches experienced a blip of popularity.
For more fascinating info on the worst cures in history, get Quackery on Amazon.