Ancient Egypt: sandalwood and cow horn
The most interesting question regarding the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases in the past is whether people of antiquity associated specific diseases with sex. Not to mention that the symptoms of many STDs are similar to other diseases, so sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish one ailment from another.
It is impossible to say for sure, but some documentary evidence nevertheless confirms: even then people were aware that unprotected (and there could be no other) sex can cost a voluptuous man dearly. For example, the Ebers Papyrus, a kind of medical encyclopedia of the ancient Egyptians, depicts doctors trying to help patients cope with pain in the genital area.
According to Professor Franjo Gruber’s interpretation in his book A History of Sexually Transmitted Diseases from Antiquity to the Renaissance, the Eber papyrus demonstrates the use of sandalwood oil in an attempt to treat a urethral infection that could also be a sexually transmitted disease.
But this is not the only method of “solving sexual problems” known to the ancient Egyptians. They cast spells and cast out evil spirits from the bodies of patients, and used numerous ointments and ointments with herbs, garlic, and even a small amount of crushed cow horn.
Ancient Greece: weights and iron
Historians believe that the ancient Greeks and Romans were aware of the possible risks due to sex. So before going to the prostitutes, they took a shower, thoroughly washed their genitals and rubbed them with oils to prevent infection. But there were also more extreme methods.
Soranus of Ephesus, an ancient Greek physician who worked in Rome, believed that the cause of venereal diseases is the general weakness of the body, which needs healing and exercise. He recommended that those infected with gonorrhea wear lead weights to help the body get stronger and cope with the disease.
And here is another treatment for herpes, which has been known to the Greeks since the founding of Greece itself (even the word is Greek). But, probably, no one, except the Greeks, proposed such a barbaric and terrible method of treating the virus. Burn with hot iron. In the truest sense of the word.
Her Majesty Mercury
Mercury was used everywhere – it was believed that with its help syphilis could be cured. The first remedy for the treatment of syphilis – mercury compounds and mercury ointments – was proposed by the famous Paracelsus. Mercury ointment was rubbed into the legs. Mercury treatment, recommended by the Italian physician Giovanni de Vigo, has been used in Europe for about 400 years.
For a very long time she was treated with syphilis – everything from ordinary soldiers to the top of society. Along with mercury, in the 16th century, Europeans began to use the so-called lignum vitae, a hawaiac tree that was brought to Europe from Jamaica. Despite the strong belief of people in its miraculous properties, there is no evidence that it actually worked.
XIII century, Italy: leeches and urethral irrigation
Rogerius of Salerno (not to be confused with Roger of Salerno, an Italian nobleman) has earned his place in the history of medicine. In the 13th century, he wrote one of the most detailed surgical manuals at that time. The standards described there seem frightening to our contemporaries – primarily because of the lack of anesthesia. But for those times, his solutions were, one might say, innovative.
As a treatment for STDs, he suggested either letting the leeches suck all the “dirty blood” out of the body, or what Professor Gruber delicately called “urethral irrigation” – yes, with a tube that is dipped into that very place.
Medieval Europe: lead and virgins
One of the surest remedies for STDs in the European Middle Ages was lead. Yes, not just lead, but baths with lead vapors and the so-called “sweaty clothes” – shreds of cloth that were dipped in a liquid containing lead.
But closer to the Renaissance, people began to believe in the healing power of virginity. It was believed that in order to get rid of an STD, it was necessary to have sex with a virgin, whose purity would help the patient to recover. Of course, this barbaric belief led to child abuse. In the 16th century, gossip arose in Italy that, in order to heal oneself, one had to sleep with a black woman.
18th century, France: spanking and confession
In France, at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries, there was already a well-established system for curing syphilis. It consisted of three stages. First of all, the sick man was flogged – publicly, in the city square. After that, he was sent to the hospital, and if the disease was not too advanced, the doctors got down to business. They gave him bloodletting, then gastric lavage, and then two-hour baths for two weeks. And again gastric lavage.
The third stage consisted of mercury ointments. After that, the patient was declared healthy and expelled from the hospital.
England, 19th century: prison for women
Venereal disease became a huge problem in 19th century England, hitting the army and navy the hardest. After all, returning to their homeland, soldiers and sailors first of all went for venal love. In the 1860s, the government criminalized the work of prostitutes by law. If the police suspected that a prostitute was in front of them, they could force her to undress and examine her for signs of STDs.
If the servants of the law found signs of illness, the woman went to special institutions for treatment. If she refused, she was placed in prison – for up to a year, without the opportunity to go out or earn a living.
We do not realize how lucky we are – we can not only cure venereal diseases, but also easily prevent them.