Nowadays, we have a plethora of contraceptives to choose from. Women can choose from pills, patches and injections when it comes to family planning.
Contraceptives for men are still in the process of being developed. Currently, condoms or vasectomies remain the best options. The NHS states that although research continues into a reversible method of contraception for men. However, it could be many years before it becomes reality.
What was the alternative to hormonal contraceptives?
To celebrate Sexual Health Week 2021 we look back on some of the strange birth control methods used throughout history.
Goat’s bladder, linen sheaths, leather, and lambskin
The first known use of a condom was by Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos of Crete in Greek mythology, who used a goat’s bladder to protect herself from her husband’s semen which was said to contain “scorpions and serpents”. Yikes.
Condoms used circa 1,000 B.C.E. were fashioned from oiled silk paper, linen sheaths, leather, or very thin hollow horn, according to Verywell. It’s thought that sheep guts began being used as a barrier in the 1640s. Some believe that the name “condom” was coined after a physician called Dr. Condom was used by King Charles II to lubricate his sheep intestines in 1660s. Others say it derives from the Latin condus, meaning “vessel”.
Medieval European women reportedly used to wear weasel testicles around their necks or tie them around their legs to ward off unwanted pregnancies.
Canada’s 16th century saw some adapt the animal testicle idea to make a postcoital cocktail from ground beaver testicles, moonshine and other ingredients.
Honey, acacia and lint
As early as 1850 B.C. women in ancient Egypt were concocting homemade spermicides, according to Flo. In order to prevent sperm from reaching their uterus, women would put lint or cotton soaked into honey, acacia fruit, and acacia leaf in their vaginas.
It’s thought that ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians would form a pessary made of crocodile dung as birth control. According to Flo, dung was also used in other parts of the world, with women in ancient India and the Middle East using elephant faeces.
In 1909 we had the first IUD. Dr Richard Richter invented a ring of silkwormgut that could be inserted in the womb. This was to induce an inflammatory response which would make the uterus unhospitable for sperm.
Although the silkworm gut version of the early IUD never quite took off, physicist Ernest Graefenberg went on to develop Graefenberg’s ring, a coil made of silver, in 1928. (Bonus fact: the G spot is named after Graefenberg after he discovered the “erotic zone” in 1950).
Douching was thought to have been an effective way to flush out or kill any lingering sperm, with Roman women reportedly using seawater, lemon juice or vinegar.
Rumour had it that cola was also used as a douche, with Snopes stating it was a “somewhat popular” method in the 1950s and 1960s. The “shake and shoot” method saw the girl open a warm bottle of cola, shake it with her thumb over the top of the bottle, then insert it and move her thumb away to create an “an effervescent spermicidal douche”. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work.
Antiseptic soap Lysol was also ineffectively used in the mid-1900s before the pill became popular in the 1960s.
Jumping and sneezing
In a blog post where several common conception myths are debunked, Snopes reminds us that no amount of jumping up and down or sneezing will make a difference once you’ve done the deed.
Although it’s easy to chuckle at some of the lengths people went to in a bid to ward off any unwanted pregnancies back in the day, looking back at the history of contraception highlights how important it has always been in terms of family planning and bodily autonomy, and how far we have come.