In the past women used to have many babies which was not because they loved the ‘visiting stork’ a lot. The truth is, women back in the day probably never heard of the best oral contraceptive method ever – saying “No”, repeatedly – until the man understood that he was not going to get any fun inside the sheets unless he uses protection. Simple!
They did however; try some ridiculous, often painful ways of avoiding pregnancy. A quick look at some of them, and I’m sure you’d be thankful that all you have to do is put on latex.
And just so you know, I don’t recommend you try out any of these…
1. Crocodile Dung and Honey (Egypt, 3021 B.C.)
Yes crocodile dung and…yes it was somewhat effective.
The word ‘Ancient Egypt’ brings images of people who were lavish in life and in death. Heck, they even bandaged you up in preservatives and made you pyramids laden with gold and jewels when they knew you are never coming back. So you’d think even when they slept with each other, they’d find some expensive and luxurious contraception. Not so… Turns out, ancient Egyptians used disgusting mixture of honey and crocodile dung as a spermicide. Okay so honey is a natural antibiotic and crocodile dung, according to ancient scriptures dated back to 1850 BC do have alkaline properties which can be a spermicide. But I suspect if you were an Ancient Egyptian woman, you probably would never want to sleep with another man once you had a lump of stinky crocodile poop inserted in your vagina. And if you grew up wishing you had a life like Cleopatra, think again!
2. Elephant Dung Pessaries (India, 1st century A.D.)
If it is about non-traditional medication, how can ancient India be far behind. Today, you may love the land which gave the world Yoga and Ayurveda; they too weren’t immune to putting some animal poop up the holiest of holes. A mixture of clarified butter (ghee), rock-salt soaked in oil, seeds of palasha (a deciduous tree) and elephant dung may sound exotic – it really isn’t stuff you want to ‘stuff’ your vagina with. Pessaries (hexagonal wooden blocks) have since been banned as an ‘instrument of torture’. Both elephant dung and the tree seeds were notoriously resinous and reportedly acted as spermicides.
Still complaining about latex?
3. Weasel Testicle Patch (Europe, Middle Ages)
This must have been very effective since the smell would make all the men run away. No men, no pregnancy!
“If one takes the two testicles of a weasel and wraps them up, binding them to the thigh of a woman who wears also a weasel bone on her person, she will no longer conceive,” reads one passage among the Contraception Museum ‘s 11 display cases, which include authentic contraceptive items.
4. Beaver Testicle Pulp and Alcohol (Canada 1560-1730)
They seemed to believe, as late as 16th to 18th century times, that making a cocktail (no puns intended!) with beaver testicles would protect you from any unwanted gifts. Many other ancient physician texts reveal men often drank potions made up of crushed animal testicles like horse and mule. Wow, these ancient men and women were having a ‘ball’!
5. Peppermint, Asparagus Stalk, Sneezing (Ancient Greece)
The Greeks weren’t going to fall behind in the race to crazy contraceptives. Not quite as shocking as animal poop or testicles, nevertheless they used a mixture of peppermint and honey as a contraceptive. If you didn’t fancy breathing like a chewing-gum right after sex, you could opt for wearing an asparagus necklace (how cool! So you could smell like farmer’s market and still not have babies). And if neither suits you, just hold your breath, sneeze and drink cold water. First century Greek super-doc Dioscorides describes further – if the methods above don’t work (and you find out that your periods are not happening) – you could try kicking your heels to your butt until the “seed” gets loose and falls out. Whoa! It’s such a pity ancient Greeks didn’t allow women participate in the Olympics. They could have an entire team of women who didn’t want pregnancy to show up for gymnastics.
Last but not the least, there is one more ‘water’ therapy. If you really, really want to not have the baby, just drink the water in which a blacksmith has just cooled his iron. I am not convinced these methods worked, but rest assured – one or more of these could probably kill you even before you realize that you are pregnant!
6. Onion Juice (France, 17th century)
From the fresh peppermint breath to foul smelling onion breath. Oh well, the French are known for their cuisines.
7. Cola (USA, 1970s)
Despite the fact that latex came into the scene in 1930s, flushing the vagina with acidic liquids was always a popular method. Ancient Greeks and Romans (see above) used citric juices, vinegar and similar liquids. Ancient Indians also used honey or steam (thanks Kim Kardashian, for making the vagina steam popular again!) but USA took it a step further. Until 1970s Cola was thought a great flushing agent for sperms. Well, Cherry Coke or Vanilla Pepsi doesn’t prevent your pregnancy if you were knocked up without protection. That didn’t stop women from trying the then-popular ‘shake and shoot’ methods. Well, at least it tasted good next time someone went down on her.
8. Liquid Mercury and Lead (Ancient China)
Chinese women back in the day used to drink liquid mercury and lead to keep unwanted pregnancy at bay. While there is no documented success case, these toxins would have certainly caused liver, kidney and brain damage – and of course, death. Given that they still found time to become the most populous country in this world, it’s safe to say drinking the thermometer liquid perhaps didn’t do them much favors.
9. Metal Thimble (Europe, 19th century)
Europeans used their version of pregnancy prevention as a metal thimble, which was believed to work like a diaphragm. It was certainly painful, often causing women to bleed and wounds turn septic. Not cool!
Latex versus metal thimble between your legs?
- Marseille Soap Suppository (Russia, 20th Century)
Those gorgeous Russian women, even as late as 20th century, would place Massalian Soap suppositories in their “you know where”. Creative and refreshing!
I don’t know if it worked, but it certainly kept the place smelling nice – which might actually be inviting for more ‘pregnancy causing acts’.
11. Sponge soaked in Lemon Juice (Turkey, 20th century)
Yet another acidic juice for purging the sperms. The high acidity of citric juices may have worked as a spermicide.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, women could use half a squeezed lemon as as diaphragms to prevent sperms; legendary Casanova takes credit for “inventing” that method, but there’s significant evidence that a lot of people in many different cultures were using it. Citric juices however, are not the best choice and are known to damage vaginal tissues.
12. Exile (British Columbia, 19th century)
One of the more seriously misogynist methods – the Currier Indians used to put their women to ‘exile’ as soon as they started their menstrual cycles. For all the bravado associated with the ‘men’, these were women who had to survive in forests, while human establishments considered them ‘bad omen’. The women weren’t allowed to set foot, or even use regular roads since they were considered ‘cursed’. Sure, it allowed fewer chances of intercourse, but hardly the best solution for innocent young women
13. Breastfeeding (Ancient Mesopotamia)
Ancient Mesopotamia used perhaps the most medically agreeable and positive method of contraception. After having a baby, the women were insisted to breastfeed for next few years. Not only did it allow excellent health for the young one, it ensured women didn’t have any periods and hence no pregnancies for a few years. Finally, smart women!
From the earliest condom like animal sheaths and sausage casings from 1642 (Dudley castle, England) to the modern condoms and latex in 1930s – science has certainly moved forward with the contraception choices.Next time you whine about those few seconds of putting them one, remember – you are better off than putting poop or vinegar up there. I am definitely not complaining about latex ever again. Science!! I’m grateful to you!
Watch the striking video for more historic birth control methods, and more information on the benefits of increased access to family planning services.