Since people have been engaging in sexual activities, they have been hoping to be able to in some way control or prevent pregnancy. This has led to some questionable; if not flat out, dangerous innovations from animal poop and intestines to honey and stones to mercury and even tortoise shells. From ancient times on, people have tried anything and everything as a type of contraceptive. While some may have been effective, many were not. Some were even deadly.
In 1850 BCE, the Egyptians used the waste of their crocodilian friends of the Nile in their out-of-the-box efforts to prevent pregnancy. Fortunately, it was at least dried out before being inserted into a woman’s genitalia and mixed first with a bit of sticky honey. Those who used it assumed it would soften and expand to form a barrier to sperm once inside.
As the preferred food of the Nile crocodile is fish though it will also feast upon decaying carrion, one can only guess how pleasant its feces and its smell is. It’s likely something that even the sweetness of honey couldn’t fix to add insult to injury. It also didn’t work. In fact, crocodile dung changes the pH of the body and thus actually improves the odds of conceiving.
By 1550 BCE, the Egyptians began to mix it up with the applications of acacia leaves and honey. These would sometimes be combined with wool and lint as a type of sperm fighting tampon. Whoever came up with this idea was really onto something. Acacia ended up fermenting into lactic acid within the woman’s body, which does have true spermicidal properties. Further, the application of wool or lint in the vaginal opening became an effective physical barrier to sperm seeking entry.
While it was described in ancient Cretan manuscripts, 2,000 years earlier the Egyptians were among the first group known to wear a rudimentary condom in 1000 BCE. Though at this point in history they were made of linen and intended more for disease prevention than as a form of birth control. Beyond this, they were even coloured and flaunted as a type of status symbol among Egyptian men.
By 700 BCE, Romans were using the bladders of goats, sheep and other unfortunate animals as a type of condom similarly to the Egyptians. However, even at this time they were still mostly worn to protect women from sexually transmitted infections and in the interest of public health, rather than to avoid pregnancy. It’s believed that later on, the zookas tribe in New Guinea began to recognize them for their current use and family planning. They also designed a nifty woman’s condom in efforts at conception prevention. By 2200 BCE, Romans came up with the worst idea.
Worse than using animal organs, or crocodile poop a popular method of the region was to place a hard stone or bronze object up into the woman’s reproductive tract. This worked as a diaphragm or a cervical cap. But, we can safely assume it was far less comfortable than pliable modern-day versions. Des Cortese, a Greek doctor in ancient times, suggested using peppermint oil when inserting an object of this type. This meant to block or kill sperm. This would have numbed the area and given the woman more comfort during intercourse. But, we’re still gonna call this a bad idea.
Nonetheless Roman gynecologist , Soreness had several suggestions of his own. The first was that women should abstain from sex during their periods which he thought was their most fertile time and when they would be most likely to get pregnant. Of course, for those with a regular and predictable cycle, this is not the case. He also believes that women should stop breathing while the man finished and then proceed to perform squats and sneeze, to fight the sperms movement in a strange combination of downward pressure and gravity. Finally, they were instructed to clean themselves in order to fully avoid pregnancy.
For obvious reasons, this approach was less effective than those that use things such as natural spermicides or forms of cervical blockage. Somewhat surprisingly, it was biblical texts that followed that described a much less complex method. The Testament which experts believe was first written in ancient Hebrew and originated in either the 6th century BC or due to newly discovered evidence as far back as four centuries prior.
In contrast, the ancient Chinese habit of drinking liquid mercury or ingesting mercury tablets definitely made an impact. Though not its intended one, while they were hoping it would prevent pregnancy, it’s not exactly known how much of an effect it had in that area unless we’re talking about a woman’s death. This is because mercury is a highly poisonous neurotoxin, that can cause muscle weakness and twitching headaches, respiratory failure and as we just mentioned an untimely death.
For these reasons, this practice was eventually discontinued. 12th century China had more success. As a result of the country’s use of a less fatal method, taking advantage of their vast knowledge in the production of silk, they created a penile sheath of silk paper. To this, they also added some oily loop. However, the purpose of this oil was not only to enhance pleasure, but in the belief that it could also help impair sperm health and move. China was not the only area to have a few historical rough patches and their pregnancy prevention technology. Dangerous contraceptive measures were also used in 4th century Greece.
In addition to the likely pleasant combinations of frankincense and cedar oil thought to act as spermicides. Women would sometimes anoint themselves internally with lead. They would even drink the water used by blacksmiths, contaminated with the same metal for pregnancy termination purposes. Unfortunately, lead poisoning is quite serious and can lead to increased blood pressure, pain, impaired memory, headaches and mental disorders. It does cause a lower sperm count than men and miscarriage, premature birth or stillbirth among the babies of women. But, it does so at it cost. Sources claim that women thought of lead exposure as helpful for pregnancy prevention as late in history as world war 1.
While technically safer than metal ingestion, 13th century Japan ranks up there with the Romans use of bronze objects or rocks for the method likely to bring the least comfort or pleasure to women.
During the European Renaissance, condoms made out of animal intestines became increasingly popular. This was in an effort to once again prevent disease transmission as well as to keep in check any nightly transgressions of the Royals that would result in illegitimate children. Any intestines were fair game from the smaller fish to the larger sheep depending on the size.
The Middle Ages of Europe saw some stranger trends and contraception efforts. Women were given weasel testicles and were instructed to tie them on their bodies while engaging in sexual activities. It’s hard to picture getting down and dirty with reproductive organs from a furry mammal wrapped around your thighs or neck.
However, in England, at the time, this was not only an accepted, but encouraged thing to do. The Elizabethan period in 6th century England brought about some less disgusting though potentially quite painful ideas. Women were told to wash their intimate areas both externally and internally with acetic acid or in other words of vinegar. Prostitutes at the time would soak sponges in the stuff and then apply it before intercourse as a way to kill off sperm. As we just mentioned, this contains acid, though it is quite dilute. However, in the case of any cuts or sores, it would be sure to sting intensely. Another stinging object was described in the memoirs of the infamous Italian heartthrob glaucoma Casanova.
Casanova was rumored to have seduced many of the female population and knew a thing or two about not ruining romance with Daddy duty his technique was to cut a lemon in half and then hollow out all of its insides. This hollowed out half a fruit, would then be inserted inside the woman as a type of cervical cap. This natural approach was mimicked much later on with rubber versions that used the same underlying concept. These were available on the market.
By 1927, surprisingly crazy contraception ideas weren’t reserved for just a long ago societies. As recently as the 1950s, people believed that the carbonic acid within carbonated soft drinks would kill sperm and that their sugar content induced sperm combustion after intercourse. Women would take a bottle, shake it up and then insert it within themselves while opening it. While this was undoubtedly quite entertaining to observe, it was rather unsurprisingly proven to not be at all effective clearly. Despite this strange behavior, contraception has made significant strides since antiquity.
We can be quite glad for the improvements of these scary at times painful and occasionally deadly attempts at birth control. Throughout history, though in some areas changes did not take place to make modern forms of birth control. Until surprisingly, recently all forms of contraception really in Ireland in 1935 until 1985 though the pill was available in the instance of a medical disorder. The pill wasn’t available in the United States until 1960 when it received FDA approval and in Japan, it wasn’t legalized until as recently as 1999 though as they say better late than never now.