Yay! Here she is. :)
THE NOT SO SEXY SIDE OF HISTORY....by Delilah Marvelle
Venereal Disease is not really a subject that's usually touched upon in historical romance novels. In ONCE UPON A SCANDAL, my current release, the heroine’s father is dying from syphilis. It’s not pretty and it’s utterly heartbreaking. Because we’re dealing with romance novels, many people don’t want to see the ugly side of the reality most of these women (and men) faced. Which is why I wrote the story. My own editor squirmed and asked me to tone down all the descriptions. Needless to say, I had to do a balancing act.
Except for AIDS, every sexual disease imaginable was passed around in history. And because there was no understanding that REUSING condoms could in fact transfer disease to both sides…there was a false sense of security for men back in the day. An example of what a rake’s life was REALLY like was Casanova himself. The man bed hundreds of women, dined with the finest and the lowest, fought several duels (and lived to tell about it) and suffered from 11 venereal diseases (including gonorrhea, soft chancre, herpes, and syphilis...sexy, eh?). In the beginning, he was getting it from the women (because obviously he wasn’t born with it). Toward the end, he was giving it to the women. Despite the long list of diseases he had…believe it or not, he lived well into old age. What killed him was his inability to piss when his urethra finally closed up on him. Eck. I know. Hey, these were the REAL rakes of the day.
When it came to trying to cure these diseases, these people tried everything. Some claimed eating peacock would cure it, (I joke about this in ONCE UPON A SCANDAL) while some claimed sleeping with virgins would cure it (don’t you just want to KILL these people?). Believe it or not, the whole sleeping with virgins superstition lasted well into the 1900’s. There were actually brothels who specialized in ‘curing’. (Shaking head here…)
Though drinking mercury was the most popular form of cure, although applying mercury in a form of a salve onto the lesions was also done. Most often it was the mercury itself that ended up killing them. For chaffing and lesions linen bandages soaked in narcissus water was used. There were also people who created their own versions of ‘the cure’ (quacks) and tried to sell it and make a profit (of course it never worked).
Syphilis, depending on which region of Europe you were from went by many names. The British Called it ‘French Disease’, The French called it ‘Italian Disease’, The Russians called it ‘Polish disease’ (see a pattern here?). Everyone was freakin calling it according to their ‘enemy’ The reality was, they all had it, British, French, Italian, Russian, Polish, you name it. Because everyone was having sex.
Once a prostitute (or courtesan) contracted any detectable disease, her career was over. For who would pay any good price for tainted goods? Although sadly, that did not stop many of these women from spreading it around (or being in denial). It simply meant they would no longer be in ‘demand’ for they were ‘poxed.’
In respectable society, gentlemen gave it to their wives all the time because of their dalliances. It was a dirty, horrible secret. And once it was diagnosed, respectable society had a tendency to ‘disappear’ as quietly as they could. They ‘took in waters’, they ‘toured Europe’ and called it hundreds of other things it really wasn’t. Which is why when looking over documentation, it’s hard to dig up a lot of facts. People just didn’t want to talk about it. Think of how everyone in the 1980’s reacted to AIDS. It was amazing to see the reaction, the freaking out, the misunderstandings, and the whispers…can you imagine THEN? And yes, if you haven't already figured it out, I like to write about the not so sexy side of history...