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Fumigation, Leeches and Dick-Slapping: Ye Olde Cures For STIs

Phony evangelical miracle cures are tame in comparison to some of this stuff

Last month, part-time minister, full-time televangelist and convicted felon Jim Bakker gifted evangelical audiences with a new product he claimed was “a miracle in a tube,” and no, it wasn’t cheese. Instead, it was a gel made up of “silver” that he claims gets rid of all venereal diseases — even the ones that modern science, backed by millions of dollars, has yet to cure.

“According to The Jim Bakker Show website, ‘Silver Solution Liquid can be taken up to three times daily according to directions’ and ‘each 16 oz. bottle contains 96 adult doses,’” reported The Daily Mail. Of course, what’s really inside this ostensible “silver bullet,” and how long it might take for it to work it’s miracle, are unclear. But Bakker’s magical cure is but one faux-cure in a long line of bizarre methods — not even counting prayer — that people have peddled as a way to get rid of venereal diseases. Here are some of the most unappealing.

Mercury Fumigation

A common theme amongst historical treatments for venereal disease is that if the disease doesn’t kill you, the cure surely will. Case in point: The use of mercury to treat syphilis. “Mercury was the remedy of choice for syphilis in Protestant Europe. Paracelsus [a swiss physician] (1493–1541) formulated mercury as an ointment because he recognised the toxicity and risk of poisoning when administrating mercury as an elixir,” reported The Pharmaceutical Journal.

According to Jan Heilden’s blog Academia, the mercury was administered in various fashions, one of which included fumigation. “The patient was placed in a closed box with his head sticking out. Mercury was placed inside the box and a fire started under the box, causing the mercury to vaporize. It was a grueling process for the patient and the least effective for delivering mercury to the body,” he writes.

Sex With a Virgin

Arguably the most disturbing medieval method for curing STDs up until the renaissance was a “virgin cure: the idea that you could get rid of a sexually transmitted disease by having sex with a virgin, because their chastity made them resistant,” reported Bustle. According to the same article, this also, unsurprisingly, led to rampant child abuse.

Clapping Your Dick with a Book

Gonorrhea, aka the Clap, is the only venereal disease on this list that supposedly got its nickname from its cure, which included smashing your dick with a book. “Today, gonorrhoea is often referred to as ‘the clap,’ and some accounts suggest the name has medieval origins. The treatment for this ailment in the middle ages was thought to be slamming down a heavy book onto the penis to force the discharge out — this created a clapping sound in the process,” reported Online Health.

Suspect Oral Drugs

In 1993, Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, the former director of the only black-run AIDS clinic in Washington D.C. and former heir apparent to Louis Farrakhan (leader of the Nation of Islam), promoted a low-dose oral alpha interferon, commonly sold as Kemron. “Various medical centers in the United States, Canada, Germany and Uganda have tested alpha interferon and concluded that it has little value,” reported The Washington Post. “But researchers in Kenya — whom Muhammad champions — say interferon makes AIDS patients feel dramatically better and reverses AIDS symptoms in some of the patients they treat.”

‘A Cup of Roots’

According to Tradition, a journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, in the Talmud (the primary text of Jewish religious law), there are two discussions of a “cup of roots,” to help treat venereal disease for women (but not men, since it could potentially cause impotence).

“Thus, a woman may drink a sterilizing (i.e., contraceptive) potion as a cure for jaundice. A smaller dose recommended to treat gonorrhea does not produce permanent sterility,” writes Fred Rosner in his book Contraception in Jewish Law. “The ingredients of this ‘cup of roots’ are enumerated by Rabbi Yochanan and include Alexandrian gum, liquid alum and garden crocus, powdered and mixed with beer (for jaundice) or wine (for gonorrhea).”


Easily the most overused alleged cure for venereal disease was none other than putting leeches on the most affected areas. “In leeching, the physician attached a leech, a blood-sucking worm, to the patient, probably on that part of the body most severely affected by the patient’s condition. The worms would suck off a quantity of blood before falling off,” reported Oddee. Or, y’know, your dick fell off. Which frankly, would probably have been a relief by then.