It is no secret that ancient Egypt was a lot more sophisticated than many of their neighbouring civilizations. Their expertise wasn’t only in architecture and technology, but there was abundant knowledge of medicine as well. One of the areas where this knowledge was put to good use was in sexual health.
Many ancient Egyptian works of literature document remedies and herbs for various ailments. These include sexual enhancement formulas, contraceptives and even herbs for abortion. Although not all these remedies were effective, there are some which had a real scientific basis.
It is also impossible to separate science and magic in ancient Egypt as there were magic spells for this same purpose as well.
In ancient Egypt certain foods were considered to have aphrodisiac properties, hence they were eaten specifically to boost the libido. The most popular aphrodisiac in ancient Egypt was lettuce. In fact, this plant is associated with the Egyptian God Min who is usually depicted with a permanently erect penis.
Present day scientific evidence shows that lettuce, (especially the Serriola variety) can indeed boost sexual appetite when used in small quantities. However, taking too much of it can inhibit sexual urge as it also has a sedative and soothing effect.
Other foods popularly considered as Aphrodisiacs in ancient Egypt includes pomegranate, fennel and ginger. Honey was also considered an aphrodisiac and was usually used as a mixture with radish. Honey has been proven to have stimulating properties as it helps to maintain testosterone levels.
Another popular sexual stimulant used in Ancient Egypt was the blue lotus of the Nile. This plant also has narcotic properties. It was considered as a symbol of sex and vitality. Recent studies show that this plant actually contains substances similar to the active ingredients in Viagra. Mandrake was also popularly used although it also had hallucinogenic effects as well.
In addition to these, it is also very likely that the ancient Egyptians turned to magic charms and spells to improve their sexual performance and to attract a partner’s attention. There were also medicines for treating impotence, along with many superstitious beliefs about sex.
For example, the Egyptians considered some days of the month as not conducive for sex. They would refrain from sexual intercourse on the fifth day of the month as it was believed that a child conceived by sex on this day would suffer from excessive sexual pleasures and eventually die from it.
As with many ancient civilizations, sex in ancient Egypt was mostly aimed at procreation rather than just pleasure. Fertility and childbirth were important factors in ancient Egyptian societies and there were several medical remedies and magic spells recommended for combating infertility in men and women. However, the Egyptians also favoured birth control in various ways. This suggests that the ancient Egyptians also had sex for pleasure.
As expected, the most popular contraceptive method that was used in ancient Egypt was the “coitus interruptus” method (ejaculating outside the body of the woman). Unlike many of the neighbouring cultures that prohibited the act of spilling semen on the ground, it was common practice in ancient Egypt just like male masturbation was an accepted practice as well. Of course, this method is not quite effective and failure would have been commonplace.
The Egyptians also invented various ways of blocking sperm from entering the woman’s body. While they lacked the sophistication of present-day diaphragms, many of them were actually effective to a large extent. One simple method was to insert a ball of cotton or linen into the woman’s vagina which was then removed with tweezers after intercourse.
It is also believed that the Egyptians invented and used substances that might have had spermicidal properties in addition to the methods described above. One popular formula that was used is a mixture of honey and acacia yolks. This mixture was considered to be strong enough to prevent pregnancy for many years after its use. Although the validity of how long this treatment would last isn’t certain, there is scientific evidence to support its effectiveness. Modern scientific studies revealed that acacia contains a latex which ferments to produce lactic acid, a popular ingredient in many modern spermicides.
Some of the recommended contraceptives from ancient Egypt might be considered outrageous today. For example, some ancient texts recommend the use of auti, a powder that was obtained from the stems of a tree similar to the rubber tree. This powder would be mixed with crocodile dung and would be molded into a cylindrical shape to be inserted into the vagina before intercourse.
Strange as it may sound, there might be some scientific basis for this as the feces used in this remedy can change the acidity of the mucus within the vagina thus killing sperm. Some ancient medical texts also recommend smoking the vagina by sitting over a brazier with some herbs burning in it.
The importance of childbirth and carrying a pregnancy to term in ancient Egyptian culture cannot be overemphasized. The God Seth was considered as the God of failed pregnancies and it isn’t uncommon for Egyptian women to try to appease him and use spells and other practices to avoid failed pregnancies. Abortions and premature births were considered dangerous because of the accompanying blood loss.
In addition to magic, the Egyptians also had a number of medical remedies and potions that were used to prevent abortion and infant mortality. For example, a mixture of some herbs, honey, oil, onions and wine was applied into the vagina with the intention of shrinking the womb to keep the fetus within it.
However, this isn’t to say that some Egyptians didn’t try to induce an abortion. It’s hard to imagine the circumstances that would have prompted such acts, but it was still socially tolerated, although discouraged. Those who did it were probably women who had medical problems that would have made carrying the child full-time dangerous or those who didn’t want to have children, like prostitutes.
One ancient text recommends using a paste made from a mixture of dates, acanthus fruits and onions. This paste was to be spread on a cloth and applied into the woman’s vagina. Some woman also douched with various substances including hot oil.
Even today, people all over the world still use drugs to boost libido, prevent pregnancy and induce abortion. Although many of these methods have gotten refined and a lot more effective, it is important to learn and understand what people with less technology used during their time. This will help us to better appreciate the advancements we have made as well as the efforts and contributions of these ancient cultures.