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Contraception Technology in a Fantasy World

pmmg

Istar
I genuinely cannot for the life of me if this is supposed to be a serious video or a glorified sh**post but either way, I gotta thank you for providing me with a good laugh.
Its not a serious post.

And seriously, says the horse. I had nothing to do with it. Let's just keep it between you two.
 
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pmmg

Istar
For fantasy purposes, you could just mention a preventive the heroine takes at certain times in her cycle. If you want to go into more detail about what the preventive is made from, we know very little about the actual contraceptive recipes of the past, but some historians have attempted to reconstruct them. Eve's Herbs by John Riddle is a good resource.
This is where I am at. It seems important that you know all the mechanics of these devices/concoctions, but for story purposes, do you really? Readers will almost certainly go with they used something, and she's not pregnant. Heck...they will even go for, they did some stuff, had no protection, and she's not pregnant.
 
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This is where I am at. It seems important that you know all the mechanics of these devices/concoctions, but for story purposes, do you really? Readers will almost certainly go with they used something, and she's not pregnant. Heck...they will even go for, they did some stuff, had no protection, and she's not pregnant.

Because even with no contraception, not every act results in pregnancy. But at least your female readers will find it more believable if the characters take some kind of preventive measure, because if they don't, and if the female protagonist doesn't want to be pregnant, then realistically, she will worry about pregnancy. If she's using what she understands to be a reliable method of birth control, that's when she won't worry. It doesn't matter if she doesn't actually get pregnant. What matters is whether she thinks she might.

Male characters might not think about it. Male readers might not think about it either. But female readers will.
 

pmmg

Istar
I think if they have sex enough males will start to wonder too. But all of that points out, if you want to be pregnant and the methods suck, maybe one should refrain.

But in this, i am not sure the reliabilty of the methods matters. More so the belief in the method. If one believes they may indulge.

But all of this strikes me as not a show stopper for the reader of the story.

If females are more likely to have such thoughts while reading, would that not be the same concern the characters should have which would make it an unlikely attitude in the story.
 
But in this, i am not sure the reliabilty of the methods matters. More so the belief in the method. If one believes they may indulge.

Exactly.

My takeaway from the OP is that she's looking for a way to ensure that the female characters are confidant having sex and not concerned that they'll get pregnant. A method of birth control that they trust would do it. How reliable the method actually is matters less than how reliable the characters believe it is.

That said, we have mixed reports on how reliable the contraceptives of the past were... and the same is true of modern methods. How reliable they're believed to be doesn't always match how reliable they are, or aren't.

If a method is perceived as reliable, it must work more often than not. That doesn't necessarily mean it never fails. For comparison, we're told that brushing your teeth prevents cavities, and it does... but that doesn't mean people who brush their teeth never get cavities, necessarily. They'd just get many more if they didn't brush their teeth. Doesn't mean toothpaste doesn't work.
 

Electro Queen

Minstrel
Contraceptives did exist in the Middle Ages, and before. They've been around at least as long as agriculture and probably longer. What's a product of modern times is industrialized methods.

In the early twentieth century, birth control pioneer Marie Stopes interviewed rural French women who had small families, usually no more than three or four children. She asked them how they kept their families so small, and they showed her the herbal concoctions they were making to prevent pregnancy. When she asked them where they learned to make those formulas, they all said from their mothers, and they assumed their mothers had learned from their grandmothers, on down the generations. That's how birth control was done in the past.

Typically, those older methods worked by preventing implantation, instead of knocking out the whole menstrual cycle and preventing ovulation, as the Pill does. They didn't have to be taken daily, just at certain times of the month. Timed right, they would prevent pregnancy for the whole month.

Condoms have existed since at least ancient Egypt, but the modern version, made of rubber, mass produced, and relatively comfortable, didn't exist before the late nineteenth century. It took the smelting of rubber to make the modern condom possible, and it takes factories to produce condoms on such a wide scale that anyone and everyone can use them for every act. In a non-industrialized setting, condoms wouldn't be widely available enough to be the go to method that everyone uses. Perhaps men visiting prostitutes would use them out of concern about STD's--the real reason the condom got so popular; the syphilis epidemic brought them back into fashion in the sixteenth century, and nowadays we're told to use condoms to prevent HIV--but a married couple who want to keep their family at a manageable size would be relying on home methods.

For fantasy purposes, you could just mention a preventive the heroine takes at certain times in her cycle. If you want to go into more detail about what the preventive is made from, we know very little about the actual contraceptive recipes of the past, but some historians have attempted to reconstruct them. Eve's Herbs by John Riddle is a good resource.
Maybe I should have more than just one form of contraception in my world. My Fire Mages have the thermal energy manipulation abilities to create condoms and other factions of my world can either buy condoms from them or just use the herbal concoctions you talked about.
 

Electro Queen

Minstrel
This is where I am at. It seems important that you know all the mechanics of these devices/concoctions, but for story purposes, do you really? Readers will almost certainly go with they used something, and she's not pregnant. Heck...they will even go for, they did some stuff, had no protection, and she's not pregnant.
Tbh it’s absolutely not at all important even a little bit if you’re the reader. I just gravitate more towards fantasy worlds that feel more grounded in reality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly content to use plot armour to circumvent physical impossibilities, but anything that could be explained with logic and/or science but is instead explained away with technobabble or magic hogwash rubs me the wrong way.
 

Electro Queen

Minstrel
Because even with no contraception, not every act results in pregnancy. But at least your female readers will find it more believable if the characters take some kind of preventive measure, because if they don't, and if the female protagonist doesn't want to be pregnant, then realistically, she will worry about pregnancy. If she's using what she understands to be a reliable method of birth control, that's when she won't worry. It doesn't matter if she doesn't actually get pregnant. What matters is whether she thinks she might.

Male characters might not think about it. Male readers might not think about it either. But female readers will.
Tbh, I never actually considered the possibility that female readers would potentially question why my characters wouldn’t get pregnant after having sex like 50 times in a year (this is a random number plz don’t take this seriously). I just assumed they’d go “Oh well it’s fantasy so of course it’s not gonna resemble our reality.” kinda like the male readers.
 

Electro Queen

Minstrel
“My takeaway from the OP is that she's looking for a way to ensure that the female characters are confidant having sex and not concerned that they'll get pregnant. A method of birth control that they trust would do it. How reliable the method actually is matters less than how reliable the characters believe it is.”

More or less. I just want something reliable enough that it’s believable when a character doesn’t get pregnant after having sex once every month for like a year or two. The key word here is believable, not necessarily realistic (both would be greatly appreciated though).

“That said, we have mixed reports on how reliable the contraceptives of the past were... and the same is true of modern methods. How reliable they're believed to be doesn't always match how reliable they are, or aren't.”

I’m pretty sure this is a myth in the same way that the ‘Bows are a woman’s weapon of choice” trope is a myth. Modern contraception technology is so reliable to the point that botch jobs are as rare as finding reasonable people to talk to on Twitter.
 
I’m pretty sure this is a myth in the same way that the ‘Bows are a woman’s weapon of choice” trope is a myth. Modern contraception technology is so reliable to the point that botch jobs are as rare as finding reasonable people to talk to on Twitter.

Botch jobs aren't really that rare. And modern contraceptives don't work for everyone. Some of us are severely intolerant, allergic, and/or physically unable to use every available method.

There are also individuals who try every obtainable method and have them fail, even if used correctly.

We know less about the reliability of ancient methods. Keep in mind that we don't have complete information on how exactly they were prepared and used, let alone how exactly they worked, and we don't know what all the relevant variables were. Trying to reconstruct pre-modern contraception based on the available information--which some people have done--does result in failures, though whether that means the method isn't really that effective, or that we're missing some crucial step that our ancestors knew, we don't know.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
Botch jobs aren't really that rare. And modern contraceptives don't work for everyone. Some of us are severely intolerant, allergic, and/or physically unable to use every available method.

There are also individuals who try every obtainable method and have them fail, even if used correctly.

We know less about the reliability of ancient methods. Keep in mind that we don't have complete information on how exactly they were prepared and used, let alone how exactly they worked, and we don't know what all the relevant variables were. Trying to reconstruct pre-modern contraception based on the available information--which some people have done--does result in failures, though whether that means the method isn't really that effective, or that we're missing some crucial step that our ancestors knew, we don't know.

There's also that other phrase that comes up, "....when used as directed." Even when something is highly effective, user error is remarkably common. People miss a few doses, or wear the wrong size, or let it sit for six months in a hot car, or who knows what else. I'm sure that happened with ancient methods, too, especially when people relied on hearsay remedies and didn't have the same understanding of how things work internally.

And that can be hard to separate from the effectiveness rates. Did the condom really tear on its own or did it catch on somebody's ring and how does that count towards the numbers? Those kinds of failures happen fairly often, and people often don't realize they made the mistake.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
In any discussion on what types of contraception would work in a fantasy setting the first question that should be asked is if the female physiology of your humanoids are the same in your world as it is in the real world? In fantasy you can tweak the human anatomy so herbal or other plant based remedies are more reliable. If the female menstrual cycle is made as as reliable as clockwork she can take the contraception at the right time and be pretty much guaranteed that it would work. It would also greatly improve how reliable the contraception is if used as directed.

The second question is how do they take the contraception? Do they drink it? Eat it? Smoke it? Snort it? Absorb it through the skin? Each method affects how fast it'll work, how effective it is and how risky it could be.

The third question is how easy is it to actually obtain the contraception? Is the contraception easy to make? Are the ingredients used to make it easy to obtain? Does a person require permission from the authorities, parents, priests or a mage to use it? Does the culture or the society approve of the use of contraception? If so, is support for its use conditional, such as being promoted for those outside marriage but banned for those within marriage? These questions will impact on how affordable or accessible it is. It will also help determine if the production of the contraception is standardised or if you're risking your health or life every time you use it because every back alley shyster making these potions is using a different formula to concoct their product.

Just a few thoughts I thought I would throw in.
 
More or less. I just want something reliable enough that it’s believable when a character doesn’t get pregnant after having sex once every month for like a year or two. The key word here is believable, not necessarily realistic (both would be greatly appreciated though).
To be fair, if this is the frequency you're going for, and you want a 50% of not ending up pregnant, then you don't really need anything other than a fairly regular period, counting days and a bit of luck.

Getting pregnant is actually reasonably hard, surprisingly enough*. If you know when you are actually fertile, which is only a few days during each menstrual cycle, then you can just not have sex during those days and you're good to go. No, it's not a reliable method by any means. But if you only have sex once per menstrual cycle then timing the whole thing is a no brainer. Even a man could do that if he wanted to.

Two things I'm thinking here:
first: is your story actually about people having sex and getting pregnant or not? If it is, then you want to make sure you have this figured out. If not (think game of thrones), then just hand-wave it away. If it's only a minor detail then don't worry about it too much.

Secondly: be very, very careful with giving your firemages the ability to create condoms using magic. The reason for this is that while it seems innocent enough, by doing so you have more or less started the industrial revolution in your setting. After all, if they have figured out how to create condoms using magic then that probably means they have first figured out how to make other things (unless it's a very sex-orientated society where this is the number 1 problem to solve). And if fire mages can create stuff, then so can other mages. There are much more practical uses for using magic to make stuff. And if you can make something as silly as condoms, then you will definitely have made all the other stuff as well. This is a major worldbuilding choice. It's fine if you want to make it. But just make sure you think it through.

*as for getting pregnant being difficult: on average it takes people trying to become pregnant something like 6 months of actually trying. And (at least here in the Netherlands), if you've being trying for less than a year a fertility specialist will send you home with the message to simply keep trying. Of course you'll find people who get (un)lucky the first time they have sex. But you hear about them because they are the exception, not the rule.
 

Electro Queen

Minstrel
Miles Lacey



“In any discussion on what types of contraception would work in a fantasy setting the first question that should be asked is if the female physiology of your humanoids are the same in your world as it is in the real world? In fantasy you can tweak the human anatomy so herbal or other plant based remedies are more reliable. If the female menstrual cycle is made as as reliable as clockwork she can take the contraception at the right time and be pretty much guaranteed that it would work. It would also greatly improve how reliable the contraception is if used as directed.”



This is actually a really good point that I haven’t really thought about all that much. Like I said in the last page, the humans of my world took a different evolutionary path than the one we took in our reality that resulted in women being only slightly weaker than men (as opposed to being significantly weaker) whilst still looking as good as they do in our world. Tbh, I’ve still yet to work out how exactly that would work in a realistic sense. Too much Testosterone can make pregnancy and child birth Excruciatingly difficult and painful but if I want my women to have both strength and good looks, I may just have to hand wave a bit.



“The second question is how do they take the contraception? Do they drink it? Eat it? Smoke it? Snort it? Absorb it through the skin? Each method affects how fast it'll work, how effective it is and how risky it could be.”



I mean, if there’s multiple methods of contraception in my world inspired by real world objects, each of them would be taken the same way we take them. Never heard of a contraception device that works through absorbing it into the skin. Is that even a thing in real life?



“The third question is how easy is it to actually obtain the contraception? Is the contraception easy to make? Are the ingredients used to make it easy to obtain? Does a person require permission from the authorities, parents, priests or a mage to use it? Does the culture or the society approve of the use of contraception? If so, is support for its use conditional, such as being promoted for those outside marriage but banned for those within marriage? These questions will impact on how affordable or accessible it is. It will also help determine if the production of the contraception is standardised or if you're risking your health or life every time you use it because every back alley shyster making these potions is using a different formula to concoct their product.”



Easy if you live near the places that make and sell them. No idea, how easy is it to make rubber or grow silpium? The person using them doesn’t need permission from anyone if they’re an ordinary person, but anyone in the royal armies (the water faction and the fire faction) is advised to use them if they want to engage in sexual activity with someone else (if pregnancy occurs, the female soldier in question gets a temporary leave until the child is born and they are expected to do daily exercises and allow another individual to look after their child if they wish to continue fighting in the army). Both factions approve of the use of contraception technology.



“Just a few thoughts I thought I would throw in.”



Gotta say, they were damn fine thoughts :)
 

Electro Queen

Minstrel
Prince of Spires



“first: is your story actually about people having sex and getting pregnant or not? If it is, then you want to make sure you have this figured out. If not (think game of thrones), then just hand-wave it away. If it's only a minor detail then don't worry about it too much.”



My overall story isn’t about people getting pregnant, but a prequel mini story that I’m working on does have a chapter where the complications from pregnancy are brought to light when less females in one of my factions forge sexual relationships with males to reproduce due to their insistence on joining a war. The long and short of it is, until recently, the faction operated on a blank slate equality mindset where women where given the same opportunities as men but for less effort (the faction’s Over-reliance on magic instilled within them the inherently flawed idea that anyone can do anything they want to if they just believe in themselves). The current king and queen of this group realised this issue and changed the laws slightly to ensure that the only women allowed to join the royal army would be the ones that can keep up with their male comrades. This also included providing compensation for female soldiers who got pregnant, so yeah I guess it matters just a bit that I figure this stuff out.



“Secondly: be very, very careful with giving your firemages the ability to create condoms using magic. The reason for this is that while it seems innocent enough, by doing so you have more or less started the industrial revolution in your setting. After all, if they have figured out how to create condoms using magic then that probably means they have first figured out how to make other things (unless it's a very sex-orientated society where this is the number 1 problem to solve). And if fire mages can create stuff, then so can other mages. There are much more practical uses for using magic to make stuff. And if you can make something as silly as condoms, then you will definitely have made all the other stuff as well. This is a major worldbuilding choice. It's fine if you want to make it. But just make sure you think it through.”



I mean, yeah. They use Fire Magic to create stuff all the time. Titanium weapons and armour that wouldn’t be possible to forge in real life due to the metal’s thermally insulative properties… uhhhhh… ok fine they only really use their powers to create weapons but still, I’m not worried about them starting an industrial revolution since they’d mostly just keep to themselves and focus on sustaining their kingdom by gathering food and materials from the outside world and training soldiers for battle. Fire and Earth Mages are the only ones that strike me as the kind of people who would use their magic to build stuff anyway. How would Water and especially Air magic contribute to technological development anyway?



“*as for getting pregnant being difficult: on average it takes people trying to become pregnant something like 6 months of actually trying. And (at least here in the Netherlands), if you've being trying for less than a year a fertility specialist will send you home with the message to simply keep trying. Of course you'll find people who get (un)lucky the first time they have sex. But you hear about them because they are the exception, not the rule.”



Speaking as someone who knows as much about biology as Reddit moderators know about not getting triggered by other peoples opinions, what happens during the time between the sexual session that resulted in pregnancy and the time the effects of pregnancy visually manifests as a swollen stomach? Do you feel any different during those first few months? Do you get weaker in regards to strength and/or emotions? Could a female soldier still fight after giving birth to a child?
 
Speaking as someone who knows as much about biology as Reddit moderators know about not getting triggered by other peoples opinions, what happens during the time between the sexual session that resulted in pregnancy and the time the effects of pregnancy visually manifests as a swollen stomach? Do you feel any different during those first few months? Do you get weaker in regards to strength and/or emotions? Could a female soldier still fight after giving birth to a child?
First of all, the sexual session that results in pregnancy doesn't result in pregnancy right away. It takes hours to days for the egg to fertilize and a week to a week and a half after that for the fertilized egg (now a zygote) to implant in the uterus. Until implantation happens, there's no pregnancy.

For that reason, post coital contraceptives can work. The morning after pill, aka Plan B, is the modern version. Many ancient contraceptives were, in fact, post coital ones: you didn't necessarily have to plan ahead, you just had to make sure to take something after the fact to ensure your period came in time. Which would simultaneously ensure that you weren't pregnant. What those methods did was prevent implantation. (If you want to put a dose of realism in your story, have your female protagonists eat seeds of Queen Anne's lace. That's a post coital contraceptive with some limited modern research to back it up.)

Early signs would be a missed period, and probably morning sickness, which could happen at any time of day. And breast tenderness. Intolerance for certain foods, strange tastes, and fatigue would follow over the next couple months. (Caveat: I've never been pregnant; this is based on the accounts of friends who have). To get a noticeable baby bump takes about 4-5 months. By then, you would know beyond a doubt that you're pregnant.

At least, that's how it usually happens. There have been cases of women not realizing they're pregnant until they deliver. In those cases, they typically had highly irregular cycles to begin with and were already quite overweight, so didn't notice any significant weight gain (another thing that happens during pregnancy). There are also cases of women continuing to menstruate while pregnant. That's the exception, not the rule, but it can keep them from realizing that they are pregnant.
 
Could a female soldier still fight after giving birth to a child?

Not immediately after. She'd have to recover from the birth first. Pushing a human being out from between your legs is HARD work.

But if all goes well and she recovers on schedule, she could be back in fighting shape a few months later.

What happens to her baby is another question, though. If she keeps it with her and she's breast feeding, she wouldn't be able to go off and fight until the baby is weaned, and then only if there's someone to care for the child in her absence. If she hands it off to someone else to raise right at birth, she could be going off to fight again within a couple of months.
 

Electro Queen

Minstrel
“What happens to her baby is another question, though. If she keeps it with her and she's breast feeding, she wouldn't be able to go off and fight until the baby is weaned, and then only if there's someone to care for the child in her absence. If she hands it off to someone else to raise right at birth, she could be going off to fight again within a couple of months.”

For the Water faction, they have access to a sh*t load of manmade baby formula (don’t ask me how’ve they made it I’ll cross that bridge when I get there) that they keep fresh in a cool room with lots of ice in it. They use their powers of water magic to routinely chill the ice every few minutes-hours and people can purchase it to feed the babies of mothers who’re still a part of the royal army. The Fire faction has a more traditional system of just handing off the babies to women who’re paid to breastfeed a baby (or two sometimes) as many times as necessary until they no longer need it.
 
Man made baby formula is nothing new either. As far back as we know, people have been coming up with alternate ways to feed babies if their mothers died, couldn't nurse, or were otherwise unavailable.

What is thoroughly modern is baby formula that does a good enough job of approximating the nutrients in breast milk to be a viable alternative to breast feeding in the first place. Before the mid twentieth century, the survival prospects of formula fed babies were dicey at best. If the mother was unavailable to breast feed, the most desirable solution was a wet nurse: another lactating woman who could feed the baby. (Though more often than not, that meant depriving her own baby.)

Having large amounts of man made baby formula kept constantly cold would, again, mean industrial revolution. If magic could do that, and did do that, then it would not be a pre-industrial, medieval-esque world. Wet nurses, as your fire faction uses, would fit that world perfectly.

If I were creating the kind of world you envision, and I wanted to include an alternative to breast milk that would reliably keep babies healthy, I'd make the older solutions better than they actually were. Babies really would thrive on acorn and walnut broth (an infant formula used by indigenous North Americans) or something similar. In actual fact, some babies did make it on that, but not as reliably as breast fed ones.
 
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