Birth control in fantasy and Sci-Fi

I’ve touched fertility and how it might tie to the values of a fictional culture not so long ago. Today, I’ll share my thoughts on the darker parts of procreation, focusing on fantasy but mentioning some Sci-Fi specifics at the end.

Warning: potentially sensitive content inside.

Background and history

As I tend to do with these articles, I’ll start with a bit of history. Documented attempts at birth control (that’s not pull-out) exist for over 3000 years, the ‘easiest’ of them being the insertion of a substance believed (with mixed results) to hinder the sperm into the vagina. Condoms – at those times made from animal intestines – are reliably documented only since around the 15th century. Condoms were originally used as a prevention of STDs more than unwanted pregnancy.

Of course, the simplest (but also prone to ‘user failure’) method was pullin out but that’s not the point of this post.

As for premature termination, this is also documented from before ~1000BC. Most of the ‘methods’ were simple, based on overexertion of the pregnant woman’s body – strenuous labor or exercise, fasting, or loss of blood. More violent methods also existed. Eventually, methods involving the use of herbal concoctions (often poisonous to a degree) came to be before the era of modern medication. I’ll get to why I am mentioning this a bit later.

Story setting and birth control

The typical fantasy tends to be set in times without modern technology with limited options. Unless the story takes place in an extremely prudent society, pleasure sex is bound to exist, more so in a setting where entertainment options are limited (more so for the common folk). As I’ve said in my post about fantasy longevity, keeping a healthy birth rate is the key to avoiding both overpopulation or decline.

The setting then influences the methods used and the general approach to the concept of birth control (either preventive or reactive). Some methods might be considered immoral by a fictional culture’s beliefs and thus either shunned or banned (depending on how strong position would religionhave in the setting). Likewise, some might be outlawed for various reasons – either by being tied to the culture/religion, due to health concerns, or as an attempt to prevent population decline, among others.

In fantasy, specifically, methods based on herbalism and alchemy might be more common as both preventive and reactive methods. Then, there’s the potential to use magic in birth control. One of the ideas I had would be taking an animal intestine as a condom and using magic for ‘proofing’ (to reduce the chance of leaking or breaking). The other one, though probably reserved to skilled magi, could be casting a simple shield spell on their penis – though this could require quite some concentration to keep the magical shield active during coitus.

A world of hurt

Some books take place in violent settings – worlds torn apart by wars and political struggles. As the higher castes argue about the cause and send soldiers to their deaths, the populace suffers. And as time passes, it only gets worse. When the conflict’s end is nothing more than dream, the frustration gives way to violence – including rape.

Thus, such times are likely to be the times when various (often improvised and dangerous, influenced by folk belief) methods of pregnancy termination happen the most. In addition, the existence of field courtesans could lead to the need for these methods – and will increase the toll of war due to poor conditions. After all, the Thirty years’ war (1618-1648) killed more people via crime, disease, and famine than by direct war casualties.

Thus, these settings might delve deepre into these (potentially controversial) topics as well as the different points of view – some of which are points of discussion regarding the ethical aspects of abortion even today.

Sci-Fi – and the future?

With the knowledge of the present time, more options are available. If I ws to start where the last section left off, chemical or surgical castration of repeated sexual offenders is a possibility to consider – especially because it might be cheaper than imprisonment.

To go back on the topic of prevention, time will tell how far will technology and medicine advance but the imagination of writers might give us a hint.

Genetical engineering might be a way for failproof way of birth control – such as some kind of direct control over the menstrual cycle or sperm genesis. This could also be a ticking bomb if such experiments went wrong and caused the population to struggle with conception or even became sterile to the point laboratory-induced pregnancy would be the only way.

And to end this post, there’s also the possibility of future technology to make the population sterile as a side effect. After all, the effects of radiation on human health were discovered some time after the first nuclear tests – and something along these lines may happen with some kind of future technology.


I’ll wrap it up here. If you have something to share on this matter – whether from reader’s, writer’s, or both’s perspective, I’ll welcome your thoughts in the comments.

I’d also like to promise this is the last time I am touching this kind of topic but I don’t know what crosses my mind the next time so I can’t do so.

Anyway, until next time, have fun.

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