How was infertility treated in the Middle Ages?

In medieval Europe, it was suggested to solve problems with conception with incredible and scientifically unfounded methods.

Dr. Catherine Ryder, a medieval history scholar at the University of Exeter in the UK, recently came across several medical texts from the 12th to 15th centuries that shed light on a range of bizarre (and completely unscientific) treatments for infertility. Many were written in Latin, the language of high society at the time, but some of the texts were then translated into English or French so that people of the lower class and less educated could read them.

Liber de Diversis Medicinis, a 15th century collection of medical "recipes", reads:

"If a man wants a woman to bear, you need to take catnip and boil it with wine until it decreases three times in volume, then give it to the man on an empty stomach for three days."

Another text advises

"Take boar testicles, dry and grind them, and then drink it with wine for three days."

It is unclear whether the man or woman was supposed to drink the drug.

One of the earliest texts is a 12th century treatise on gynecology. Anonymous author describes how to determine if you or your partner are infertile. According to this author, both had to urinate in a pot and then leave it somewhere for 9-10 days. If, after the expiration date, worms appear in the pot, this indicates that you are infertile.

The same text says that

“A man can also be sterile and incapable of conception, and not only a woman, ” which is quite unexpected. But it is not for nothing that the Middle Ages are famous for gender equality and scientific discoveries.

Written sources also indicate that male infertility was recognized by medieval marriage law and could even be the basis for divorce.

“Although medical texts tend to refer primarily to female infertility, male infertility was nevertheless discussed as a possible cause of childlessness in the scientific writings of educated medieval medical practitioners, ” explains Dr. Ryder.

Research shows that even then it was recognized that reproductive disorders in men could be indicative of a much larger problem than just dysfunction during sex.

“It's hard to know if men or women were more likely to seek medical attention to cure infertility in those days, ” adds Dr. Ryder. “We only know that the doctors discussed the possible causes of infertility and advised what treatment to resort to in this or that case.”