Stay “Youthful, Attractive and Ready to Work” for Your Husband!

In 1929, the vaginal douche Abonor was approved by Austria’s Ministry of Social Policy. This implement was supposedly suitable for “meticulous care of the most intimate of organs”. Indeed, douches were employed to treat discharges, etc. Much more important, however, was its use as a contraceptive: when used immediately after intercourse‚ Abonor supposedly rinsed out the sperm before they were able to come into contact with an egg cell. But saying so straightforwardly was not permitted, which is the reason for the wording.

From the brochure of the mail-order company Augusta Bohne, Schlesingerplatz 1, we learn how to avoid (additional) pregnancies and thereby ensure familial bliss: “The basis of a woman’s beauty is the attraction and happiness of her husband. Her robust body is the foundation of her children’s growth, the tranquillity of her soul and a harmonious home life.” For this reason, it’s every woman’s duty to “captivate her husband, and keep herself healthy and radiant for her children”. The Abonor douche is democratic, as it provides “every lady, and every working woman of the common people, [the opportunity] to receive a thoroughly proven, complete cleansing. [...] By using this simple implement, every women can keep herself youthful, attractive and ready to work. Most importantly, she will be filled with the wonderful feeling that the most precious, and most important, parts of her body are healthy and on the way to a fit old age. Her husband’s enjoyment of her radiant appearance will act as a tonic for her nerves and maintain her self-regard.”

This portrayal of the role to be played by a woman and mother precedes instructions for using the douche: “The filled bulb E is attached to the valve D, and the curved end of insertion tube A is slowly introduced upwards into the vagina until the sponge is flush with the vagina. The drain tube G with drainage bag F must be pointed downwards. Apply even pressure to the bulb to empty its contents into the vagina.”

If that seems uncomfortable and repulsive, never fear: “When performed underneath blankets, use of this item is absolutely discreet and aesthetic, and excludes the possibility of any kind of cold.” And this promise is also made: “The quick and easy use of this douche, which makes it suitable for all busy women, will preserve your vitality and joy.”

The bemused laughter will stick in the reader’s throat: the contraceptive pill was not available until the 1960s, and until that time, contraception was unreliable and uncomfortable, even dangerous in many cases. As a result, there were many unwanted pregnancies.