With the recent introduction of another effective contraceptive method – the low-cost intrauterine device to the ever-expanding contraceptive menu, it’s time to think about what in the hell women used when no choices were available. Women inserted all kinds of things to cause termination, but what did our ancestors use to actually prevent pregnancy? Research reveals that times were tough, folks.
When God Give you Lemons? Make Spermicide!
Citric acid from the juice of lemons is said to have spermicidal properties, meaning stuff that destroys sperm. Women used to soak clothes in lemon juice and insert them vaginally. These early “sponges” were used as a barrier method and spermicide.
All Up in Our Lady Parts
Potions and cervical caps, made out of random herbs and objects, worked on a few different levels, physically as a barrier to keep the sperm from reaching its target and chemically, in some cases, as a spermicide. The traveling History of Contraception Museum (yes, this is an exhibit!) shows that people have been putting odds and ends in their lady parts for centuries. Objects pressed into use as diaphragms, cervical caps, and other inserted barriers included weird, wooden blocks, natural sponges, a teapot top, rubber, algae and seaweed, wool, specially-made gold or silver caps, oiled paper, small rocks, and melted and molded beeswax.
What’s Up Doc?
Wild Carrot, also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, have long been used as a contraceptive. The seeds block progesterone synthesis, disrupting implantation. Taking the seeds from these wild carrots led to little or no side effects, and women who stopped taking it could conceive and rear a healthy child. The only danger, it seemed, was confusing the plant with similar-looking, but potentially poisonous hemlock.
The Fabric of our lives, or our vaginas?
Using cotton as the main ingredients, women were advised to grind dates, acacia tree bark and animal dung, and honey together into a paste, apply this mixture to seed wool, and insert the seed wool vaginally for use as a barrier method. Acacia bark actually ferments into lactic acid – a spermicide.
One for the boys!
The condom is one of the oldest forms of contraception. Its history and use can be traced back thousands of years. First forms of condoms were made from animal guts, horns and other parts that covered the man’s penis. Luckily, the rubber condom was developed in the mid-1800’s and is still the basis for production today.
For centuries, men and women have worked to find ways to plan pregnancies. We’ve come a long way, but have a long way to go in terms of pregnancy prevention. The modern day FDA has countless approved forms of contraceptives, but work still needs to be done on contraceptive side effects, costs, convenience and confidentially. Also, even though women are left with the implications of carrying the pregnancy, why can’t we find more contraceptive options for the men?
The good news is that we have lots more effective – and safe – options these days. To learn more about your modern day choices of the most effective forms of birth control, visit our birth control method selector and then find a health center near you that can help you choose and use what’s right for you.
March 11, 2016