Men and women have been practicing methods of contraception for thousands of years. Many ancient forms of contraception were ineffective at best and deadly at the extreme. Yet some methods have prevailed and still exist today or have been incorporated into current birth control methods. This brief history will give you a short overview of birth control information from the inception of contraception to current bethods.
Since the Stone Age, abstinence has been an effective form of contraception. After the time of their first menstrual periods, women in many cultures were expected abstain from intercourse so their future husbands could be sure of the paternity of their children. Abstinence has continued to be a viable form of contraception throughout the ages. Abstinence for birth control within marriage was even the agenda of the Voluntary Motherhood Movement that was promoted in America during the 1870s by feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They believed that women and men should go without intercourse altogether to control family sizes. Abstinence is still taught today in many schools and religious organizations as the best form of birth control.
Not all cultures have been willing to forgo intercourse altogether. In ancient Egypt, women used a barrier of crocodile dung because it was believed the stickiness of the substance stopped the man's semen from entering the woman. In Europe in the Middle Ages, magicians advised women to wear the testicles of a weasel on their thighs or hang its amputated foot around their necks to prevent pregnancy. Similar superstitious amulets of that time included wreaths of herbs, cat livers or shards of bones from cats (only the pure black cats), and flax lint tied in a cloth and soaked in menstrual blood. More recently, in New Brunswick, Canada, women drank a potion of dried beaver testicles brewed in a strong alcohol solution. These methods were all relatively ineffective and have no basis in today's birth control information.
One method that has been built upon since ancient times is the idea of a vaginal suppository. From honey to vinegar, various substances were inserted into the vagina. Vinegar was particularly effective, since the acidity aided in killing sperm. Today, we have parlayed this idea into contraceptive foams and spermicides that are inserted into the vagina and designed to kill sperm before they enter the uterus.
Another form of contraception that has been around for centuries is the male condom. It was developed in 1562 to stop the spread of venereal disease. Originally called the male sheath, it was made from a lubricated linen cloth. Later versions were made from goat bladders, animal intestines or blowfish intestines. Today, some condoms are still made from sheep's intestines, while more popular ones are made from latex and polyurethane.
The IUD is attributed to ancient Arabs who placed pebbles into the uteruses of their camels to prevent them from getting pregnant on long trips across the desert. The pebble created a mild infection in the uterus that prevented the fertilization and implantation of eggs. This concept was parlayed into pessaries, small bullet shaped objects, which were placed in vagina with a portion penetrating the cervix to enter the uterus. A German gynecologist developed the first IUD from gut and silver wire in 1920. And today we have both the copper IUD and the Mirena, which secretes small amounts of the hormone progestin.
For many years, birth control information has been limited due to religious and societal barriers. However, we are coming to learn that some of the methods we use today are based on those invented thousands of years before anyone even knew the biology of pregnancy. Imagine in another thousand years what inventions there will be.