In a word–condoms.
Following are a few fascinating facts about them. Bear in mind, they came into use more as a way for the man to defend himself against disease than to keep his mate from getting pregnant. Birth control was mostly considered the woman’s responsibility.
**Egyptians in the Twelfth Dynasty donned them as protection against insect bites and tropical diseases, as well as for a show of social status and as an amulet to promote fertility.
**In the 1560’s, Gabriel Fallopius (discoverer of–you guessed it!–Fallopian tubes) wrote of men wearing linen sheaths soaked in an herbal concoction to prevent syphilis.
**Early 18th century condoms were made from oiled silk, fish bladders, and the intestines of goats, lambs and calves.
**Casanova, the legendary Italian lover, inspected each condom before use by blowing into it balloon-style to make sure it didn’t deflate or burst. He then went on to moisten each one by dunking it into the canal to ensure a tight fit.
Due to the illegality of contraceptive manufacturing and advertising (remember the Comstock laws I told you about?), condom entrepreneurs set up shop in the kitchens and back rooms of emigrants, women and Jews. They found their trade lucrative in spite of their lack of professional credibility.
Despite doing a brisk business in their trade, the contraband condoms were far from perfect:
**The skins were often thick and smelly, made worse because they were rinsed, dried, powdered and then reused until they cracked or tore.
**Lower quality skins were hand-stitched, which resulted in uneven and bulky seams that irritated genitalia during use.
**On the other hand, higher-quality condoms were chemically treated, which left skin welts and lesions.
**Early condoms were securied onto their wearers with pink ribbons–probably to appeal to the female. Rings were also used to hold them in place.
**George Bernard Shaw declared the rubber condom (thanks to the accidental genius of Charles Goodyear in 1839 who discovered how to make rubber elastic and water-proof) as “the greatest invention of the nineteenth century.” Evidently, he placed lower importance on the invention of the telephone, which occurred about the same time.
**Urban butchers, defying the Comstock laws, provided city-dwellers with intestine casings, of which one animal alone could yield dozens of condoms.
In the 1870’s, the devices were readily available from mail-order houses and first-class druggists through cleverly-worded descriptions to avoid prosecution. (I always love the terminology from that era. Where did they come up with these names?) A few I’ve found:
And yes, condoms were available in brothels all over the world, from the classiest French parlor house to the primitive cribs on the American frontier.
Speaking of names, and brothels, and the prostitutes who inhabited them, the women took on a variety of nicknames to protect themselves and their families back East from their disreputable occupation. Here’s a few of the more amusing, and definitely less romantic, ones I’ve read:
Crazy Horse Lil
Big Nose Kate
Rocking Chair Emma
So that wraps up my series of posts on Old West prostitutes. Are you up to playing a little game? Let’s name a fictional soiled dove by using your favorite pet’s name and your favorite vegetable.
Winner of the funniest name will receive an autographed copy of Western Winter Wonderland! Or just drop in and let us know your thoughts!