Major historical events relating to human knowledge about sex are summarized here.
PREHISTORY: The connection between sex and reproduction was only dimly
recognized. The obvious powers of femininity were recognized and respected.
450 B.C.: Anaxagoras, Athenian philosopher (500-428 B.C.) believed that all the elements of the human body were contained in male semen and that the female provided ground for developing these elements.
400 B.C.: Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) advocated a two semen theory of generation predicated on the belief that both the male and female sexual fluids contributed to conception. (18, p 49)
350 B.C.: Aristotle (384-322 BC) modernized the old view to include the idea that although both male and female were involved in creating new life, the power of generation resided exclusively in the seminal liquor of the male. According to this idea, men alone controlled the magical force of conception; it was the father–not the mother– who was the true parent of the newborn….man controlled the form of new life; women only provided the ‘matter.’ (18, p 50) The male, he believed, provided the energy to shape material supplied by the female, like a carpenter shapes wood. The mother as a nutritive nurse to the offspring, in much the same way that the earth is to a seed.
300 B.C.: The female ovary was recognized as an entity by Herophilus of Alexandria, and described in some detail by Soranus of Ephesus in 50 A.D.
50 A.D.: A prevailing view of femininity was expressed by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: …the head of the woman is the man…the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man…Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
150 A.D.: Man was assumed to be the superior gender; woman, of course, was seen as deprived.
1500: Paracelsus, 16th century Swiss chemist, believed that if you cooked semen and horse dung for 40 days, you could make a small man, albeit one without a soul.
1600: An idea of Hippocrates, that a woman’s uterus wandered around inside her body in search of moisture, prevailed until this time. Up until the
eventeenth century, it was still generally believed that the uterus could rise
into a woman’s throat, and that such displacement was the cause of fits of hysteria….For almost two thousand years, the concept that hysteria in women was caused by a ‘wandering uterus’ held sway.
1677: Sperm were discovered in semen by Anton Van Leeuwenhock, a Dutch microscopist. He thought of them as small animalcules, a million of which ould not equal in size a large grain of sand . As yet, however, the actual role of sperm in reproduction was not known. He thought they were parasitic animals living in semen. He believed, in the tradition of Aristotle from 2,000 years previously, that males produced seeds and females merely provided the nutrient soil into which seeds were planted. It is exclusively the male semen that forms the foetus and…all that the woman may contribute only serves to receive the semen and feed it ….Five years later he changed his view of sperm and claimed that a human originates not from an egg but from an nimalcule that is found in the male semen ….. Contemporaries decided that tiny men must be curled up inside each male sperm. Some even claimed they could see small horses in horse sperm…… The widely read ‘Aristotle series,’ a compendium of sexual information throughout the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, noted: For as the seed of plants can produce no fruits, nor spring unless sown in ground proper to waxen and excite their vegative irtue, so likewise the seed of man, though potentially containing all the parts of a child, would never produce so admirable an effect, if it were not cast in to the fruitful field of Nature, the womb. Man, quite literally, ‘sowed his oats.’ …..Seventeenth century scientists were divided into 2 camps: spermists and ovists–the first, more traditionally believing in the preeminence of sperm, the second with a newer notion of ovum-power. This ebate continued through the 18th and into the 19th century.
1824: Only within the past century has the sperm’s role in fertilization been known. In 1824 Prevost and Dumas found that sperm were not parasites or re-formed humans, but active agents of fertilization. They speculated: It is infinitely probable that the number of animalcules (sperm) employed corresponds to the