Throughout time, people have had some crazy-ass beliefs about sex. They believed sneezing would prevent pregnancy (if only!) and that some vaginas had teeth (personal goal). This isn’t surprising, given the limited knowledge of actual reproductive systems possessed by people before modern times. It’s also not surprising given how taboo sex is with so many religions and the general idea that annoyingly persists in a lot of cultures that women are somehow inferior to men. Check out some of the weirdest myths people used to believe about bodies and doin’ it.
1. Allergies Were Basically Birth Control
Greek physician Soronus thought sneezing after sex would prevent pregnancy. He suggested that women squat, rinse out their vaginas, and sneeze right after sex. This is not as weird as some other forms of contraception that have been used in the past, including crocodile dung and magic amulets with weasel testicles. Neither sneezing nor squatting is going to keep you from getting pregnant, but if you squat enough, at least you’ll have a sweet ass.
2. Conception, Inception-Style
After first seeing sperm through the microscope in the 1600s, scientists Johan Ham and Anton Van Leeuwenhoek came to believe that little humans lived in inside sperm. This theory, called “preformationism,” was very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. The basic gist of it was that either the egg or the sperm (they weren’t quite sure which) contained an actual tiny person that would start growing after conception.
3. So Long, Fellas!
In the late 1800s, women were told not to ride bicycles, because it was thought they could cause infertility or lead to orgasm (orgasm was considered bad, of course). But for real, it was probably just male doctors trying to keep women from enjoying the freedom bikes gave them.
4. No Touchy Touchy
During the severely repressed Victorian era, which was filled with all sorts of contradictions, the medical community believed that women who masturbated would be under-developed and have flat chests. In his book, The Science of New Life, John Cowan wrote, “girls who have followed masturbating habits…show usually strong indications of it in the failure of their glandular development. Such persons are apt to be flat-breasted, or, as we term it, flat-chested.”
People were actually so afraid of their children touching themselves that they sold devices meant to prevent masturbation and doctors even performed clitoridectomies on young girls to keep them from doing it.
5. Kind Of Hysterical
According to medical writings dating back to the first century A.D., “hysteria” was thought to be a condition that only women suffered from. The term “hysteria” was coined by the Greek physician Hippocrates, and it was used to describe just about anything that went wrong with a woman, whether that thing was mental or physical. It was supposedly caused by a “wandering uterus.” Back then, scientists and doctors believed that a woman’s womb traveled all over her body. Those sneaky uteruses!
“Hysteria” was still diagnosed in the Victorian era. It was supposedly remedied by massaging the woman to “paroxysm” or orgasm. In fact, the vibrators we enjoy today evolved from the “medical massagers” used back then to treat “hysteria.” This factoid gives me new insight into the lyrics of the Def Leppard song of the same name.
6. You’ll Go Blind!
In 1758, Swiss physician Samuel Tissot wrote that the loss of semen men experienced resulting from masturbating could cause poor eyesight. If that were true, every man in the universe would be wearing glasses. It doesn’t make any sense.
7. Babies Were The Pits
8. Shut It Down
Not all the misconceptions about sex and pregnancy were in the past. In 2012, former U.S. representative Todd Akin said that women’s bodies could shut down and somehow prevent conception after they’d been raped. Yes. He actually said that.
9. Remember To Floss Regularly
The idea of vagina dentata, or vaginas with teeth, shows up in folklore around the world. This sounds like the dream, but actually resulted in men sometimes attempting to remove vaginal teeth that didn’t actually exist, which is horrific.
10. Women = Frigid
The second-century Greek physician Galen believed that human bodies were ruled by “humor” fluids and that men had “hot and dry” humors but women’s inferior humors were “cold and wet.” So he believed that women and men shared the same sexual system, but because women were “cold,” their sexual organs had moved inside their bodies to keep warm. That’s why early medical illustrations label women’s ovaries as “female testicles.”
11. Women Were Too Fragile To Think
Harvard Medical faculty member Henry H. Clark felt very strongly that it was important to keep women out of school because their weak little brains couldn’t handle the same strains as men’s, and that as a result, their uteruses would just plain shrivel up. It was especially important that women avoid thinking while on their periods.