A controversial topic such as birth control may seem like a modern issue, but it’s not. Contraceptives have been used in one form or another for thousands of years throughout human history and even prehistory. In fact, family planning has always been widely practiced, even in societies dominated by social, political, or religious codes that require people to “be fruitful and multiply.”
The history of birth control can be traced back many centuries. In fact, women all over the world have been using birth control method even before there were any modern medical contraceptive innovations or procedures. However, many of these pre-modern methods were not always as safe or effective as those available today.
Centuries ago, Chinese women drank lead and mercury to control fertility, which often resulted in sterility or death. During the Middle Ages in Europe, magicians advised women to wear the testicles of a weasel on their thighs or hang its amputated foot from around their necks. Other amulets of the time were wreaths of herbs, desiccated cat livers or shards of bones from cats (but only the pure black ones), flax lint tied in a cloth and soaked in menstrual blood, or the anus of a hare. It was also believed that a woman could avoid pregnancy by walking three times around the spot where a pregnant wolf had urinated.
In 1850 B.C., the earliest known contraceptive device for women was the pessary. Pessaries are objects or concoctions inserted into the vagina to block or kill sperm. By 1850 B.C., Egyptians used pessaries made of crocodile dung, honey, and sodium carbonate. Crocodile dung is alkaline.
The condom was invented in Egypt around 3000 B.C. Ancient drawings clearly depict men wearing condoms, sometimes made of material that may have been animal hide. It’s not clear what they were made of or whether they were used for sex or ceremonial dress. The oldest known condoms which dated to about 1640 were found in Dudley Castle near Birmingham, England. They were made of fish and animal intestines. Condoms in those days were used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases rather than for contraception.
Charles Goodyear patents vulcanization of rubber in 1844. Soon, rubber condoms are mass produced. Unlike modern condoms that are made to be used once and thrown away, early condoms were washed, anointed with petroleum jelly, and put away in special wooden boxes for later reuse.
On 1906, Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical harvester, is diagnosed with schizophrenia. His wife, Katherine, dreads passing on the mental illness to future children. Later, she forms a partnership with birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. She funds contraception research with her sizeable fortune.
And the result was the development of the birth control pill. The first birth control pills which were introduced more than 40 years ago, contained high levels of estrogen and progestin.
A major achievement in the history of medical science was the introduction of birth control pills. It was an answer for women who faced problems during abortions. During the 1960s, the Searle drug company receives FDA approval for Enovid, the first birth control pill. “The Pill” revolutionizes contraception. It’s 100% effective but has terrible side effects, including life-threatening blood clots.
Today, it is well known that the condom is the only effective barrier to HIV and to many, but not all other sexually transmitted diseases or STDs. Despite this, neither condoms nor other forms of contraception are used consistently by those who most need them.
Women today have many more choices to make with birth control than they did in the centuries ago, when abstinence, withdrawal, and condoms made of linen cloth or animal intestines were the only known options. With all of the reliable and more hygienic modern contraception methods out there today, finding the one that’s right for her lifestyle and health history can be a bit confusing.