Historically, the weight of contraception has always been on the female partners, and even today birth control methods aren't perfect since women deal with almost all the side effects that come with it.
Throughout history, much knowledge was shown of some version or the other of the male condom to have existed and so did the ancient people have the knowledge of what a withdrawal method meant. Yet, despite this knowledge, people of ancient times looked for not just bizarre but dangerous methods to prevent pregnancy.
It is much better now than it was in ancient times, because at least now women need not have to do any bizarre ritual or use a disgusting concoction to stop pregnancy. Safe and secure, effective and efficient methods have become available now.
Although the modern era is flooded with contraceptive pills, condoms, IUDs, abortion clinics and a host of other high-tech methods for avoiding conception, things were less than ideal back in the ancient times. Contraception was more of an art than science. Rather than understanding the functional aspect of a woman’s fertility cycle or how sperm could fertilize an egg, women were basically willing to put up with any crazy method of birth control in order to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
Many old-fashioned birth control methods exhibited a primitive, yet impressive understanding of how conception and prevention of pregnancy took place. So, let’s go through the 8 craziest birth control methods women in ancient times religiously followed/dealt with, which we thankfully do not have to undergo:
15 Lemons for the Cervix
Lemon- and lime-juice douches following coitus were used as a form of birth control method in ancient times, especially in ancient Jewish communities. This contraceptive method was mentioned in the Talmud. Lemons were inserted into a woman’s vagina as a contraceptive as citric acid was believed to have spermicidal properties.
The sponge used to soak the citric juice of the lemon itself would act as a pessary, a physical barrier between the semen and the cervix and the lemon juice worked towards destroying the sperm completely. Also, placing half a lemon in the vagina served as an early form of the cervical cap.
The popular legendary lover Casanova of the 1700s, had written about his experiences, mentioning his partners used to have used lemon rinds to block sperm from entering their cervix.
There is some research on the effectiveness of using lemons to kill 100% of sperm in less than 30 seconds. Hence, even today some medicine practitioners suggest the intake of mega doses of vitamin C (6 to 10 g a day) to induce an abortion in women under 4 weeks of pregnancy. But there is no medical evidence or otherwise to prove whether citrus fruits were ever used in this manner in ancient times.
14 From Potions to Squatting and Sneezing and/or Jumping
Some of the earliest methods of birth control used honey, acacia leaves/gum, sodium bicarbonate and lint as a contraceptive method by placing these items in the vagina to stop/block sperm; the application of gummy substances to the cervix and/or a pessary made from crocodile dung or elephant dung have been documented within the medical manuscripts, Ebers Papyrus of 1550 BCE and the Kahun Papyrus of 1850 BCE.
The use of a variety of birth control methods by the Indians in ancient times like a potion made of powdered palm leaf and red chalk, pessaries made of honey, ghee, rock salt or the seeds of the Kimshuka/Palasa tree are also well listed in the 12th century of ‘Ratirahasya’ and the ‘Ananga Ranga’.
In ancient times, to prevent pregnancy, Arabian women would eat mashed pomegranate mixed with rock salt and alum; drinking raw onion juice was a trick followed by the Italians in the 1400s and in the 1600s, the French women were believed to eat cabbage soon after intercourse. As makeshift diaphragms, African women used things like vegetable pods, grass plugs and crushed roots. Women in certain Asian countries used bamboo, moss and seaweed.
The ancient Greeks employed a wide variety of birth control methods. The ancient Greek physician, Soranus, recommended that women squat and sneeze after coitus in an effort to discharge the sperm from their vagina in order to prevent pregnancy. He also counselled them to hold their breath and jump up and down, or even jump backwards seven times as another birth control method.
Squatting and sneezing after intercourse was supposedly believed to help loosen the sperm and 'shake' it out of a woman's vagina.
13 Crocodile Poop and Weasel Testicles
In ancient Egypt, women were believed to insert a paste made of crocodile poop/dung and honey into their vaginas to act as a barrier between the semen and their cervixes. Amazingly, the combination of animal feces with an anti-bacterial substance like honey made it more effective and historical records do suggest this method to have been quite effective in preventing sperm from fertilizing an egg. The acidic property of the crocodile dung too acted as an effective spermicide. Similarly, the use of elephant dung was popular in ancient India.
Medieval Europeans believed that weasel testicles would help prevent conception and so they would hang the weasel testicles around the neck of a woman like an amulet during coitus. Weasel testicles were also worn around the thigh of a woman for preventing pregnancy.
Charms made from a mule’s uterus, hare’s anus, bones of a black cat and also from that of a donkey’s poop were believed to offer the same magic in preventing conception. In ancient Rome, women were believed to wear a pouch on their left foot during sex that contained a cat's liver.
12 Condoms Made of Animal Parts
Condoms have been used for the past 15,000 years, with the exception of latex condoms which have only been in use since 1919. Historical transcripts enlist the use of animal intestines, blowfish intestines, animal bladders and tortoise shells as condoms which would be cleaned and then tied in a knot on one end.
The Chinese used lamb intestines and the Japanese used tortoise shell or animal horn. The legendary Casanova too was believed to have used condoms made from the bladder of a sheep. In those days, workers of the slaughter house had learnt to style their condoms with sausage skins.
The invention of vulcanized rubber in 1850, led to the manufacturing of condoms out of that material, which resembled something more like today’s diaphragms than the modern latex condoms. These rubber versions were custom cut to fit each individual, but they could only cover the tip and had to be washed and reused.
It is also documented that a Jewish immigrant to New York by the name of, Julius Schmid, who was also a onetime sausage-maker started making lamb-cut condoms in the 1880s and by the time Trojan condoms came into market, he had started manufacturing rubber condoms under the Ramses and Sheik brand names.
11 Natural and Poisonous Contraceptives
Ancient women in different cultures used to take various substances orally to prevent pregnancies. These substances though prevented pregnancy, were mostly unhealthy and at times lethal. Chinese women drank mercury sometimes along with sixteen tadpoles whereas Indian women took carrot seeds and aboriginal women from Canada drank tea made from beaver testicles to avoid conception.
In ancient times, Ebers Papyrus (1550 BCE), the medical manuscript advised women to grind and make paste of dates, acacia tree bark and honey, apply this mixture to seed wool, and then insert that seed wool vaginally for use as a pessary. Acacia would then ferment into lactic acid acting as a spermicide. While the seed wool did serve as a physical barrier between the semen and cervix.
It is believed that women during the times of American slavery would chew on the bark of cotton root to prevent pregnancy as cotton root bark contains substances that interfere with the corpus luteum known to secrete progesterone so as to prepare the uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg. By curbing the actions of corpus luteum, cotton root bark interrupts the production of progesterone, and as a result pregnancy can’t continue.
10 From Spirits to Papaya
In ancient times when pregnancy was believed to be controlled by spirits, the sun or the moon, people used myths, rituals, dances and amulets as popular means to control fertility and conception.
The birth control methods were quietly passed on from woman to woman. It’s understood that in cultures where the moon was believed to be the power of conception, women tried to sleep away from the reach of the moonlight/moonbeams to avoid pregnancy.
In some cultures women believed in throwing corn kernels, apples or nails into a well to avoid conception; while in some other cultures, women believed spitting three times into a frog's mouth was a good way of preventing pregnancy, and in some cultures, walking over the graves of dead female ancestors was believed to prevent unwanted pregnancy. European women believed that they could avoid/prevent unwanted pregnancy by turning backwards the wheel of a grain mill four times at midnight.
Papaya once ripe loses the phytochemicals that interfere with progesterone and thus its contraceptive and abortifacient properties can be used to prevent pregnancy. Hence, unripe papaya was used to prevent or terminate pregnancy in South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is also believed that the seeds of the papaya could actually serve as an effective male contraceptive.
Papaya seeds, taken daily, could cut a man’s sperm count to zero and was safe for long-term use. Interestingly, the infertility (sperm count) could be reversed/return to normal if and when the man would stop taking the seeds.
9 Lead and Mercury
Many cultures across the world, in ancient times, used liquid contraceptives for controlling unwanted pregnancy as they were affordable. Poisonous substances like lead, arsenic and strychnine were used as a form of oral contraceptives. However, a lot of time and effort passed until a modern oral contraceptive, the birth control pill, came into the market.
For thousands of years, women of ancient China and Greece drank lead-infused water to prevent pregnancy. It’s believed that till World War I, some women took to working with lead-based materials in factories so that they could prevent unwanted pregnancy.
In ancient China, women were also advised to drink hot mercury to prevent pregnancy as they believed it to work as a contraceptive. During those days avoiding unwanted pregnancy was a priority and so women were easily convinced to consume mercury.
However, today, we know of the fact that lead and mercury are enormously toxic, causing heart disease, kidney and lung failure, as well as brain damage and death.
8 Flower and Fennel for Family Planning
Silphium a kind of ‘giant fennel’, though now extinct, was one of the many plants whose juice was apparently used in ancient times to prevent pregnancies and induce abortions. Similarly a plant related to silphium, ‘Ferula moschata’ is still being used as a folk medicine in Central Asia to induce abortions.
Another plant that the ancients used was ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’ or wild carrot. Hippocrates described that its seeds acted as a contraceptive and also induced abortions. Some women drank a glass of water containing a teaspoonful of these seeds immediately after coitus to prevent conception. It was reversible too since women who stopped taking it could conceive and rear a healthy child.
‘Pennyroyal’ is another contraceptive plant in the mint genus which the ancient Greeks and Romans used as a cooking herb and a flavoring ingredient in wine. 1st-century physician Dioscorides records the use of pennyroyal in the form of tea to induce menstruation and abortion.
‘Blue cohosh’ was traditionally used for birth control by Native Americans as it contained two abortifacient substances that stimulated uterine contractions. Some midwives today use blue cohosh in the last month of pregnancy to tone the uterus in preparation for labour. ‘Black cohosh’ plant which also contains estrogenic and abortifacient properties was often combined with blue cohosh to terminate a pregnancy.
‘Dong Quai’, a Chinese angelica, has long been known for its powerful effects on a woman’s menstrual cycle. Hence, women drank a tonic brewed with dong quai roots to help regulate irregular menstrual cycle, relieve menstrual cramps and help the body rejuvenate after the menstrual cycle. It is also said that if taken during early pregnancy, dong quai had the effect of causing uterine contractions and inducing abortion.
And finally, ‘Rue’ a blue-green herb with feathery leaves that was known to Greeks and Romans as a contraceptive and abortifacient. Women in Latin America consumed rue in salads and/or made and consumed rue tea as an emergency contraceptive or to induce abortion. If consumed regularly, rue is believed to decrease the blood flow to the endometrium making the lining of the uterus non-nutritive to a fertilized egg.
7 Sponges From the Sea
In ancient Jewish communities, women preferred the use of sea sponges as a means of contraception. Women would soak sea sponges with acidic substances and insert the sponge vaginally before intercourse. The sponge would be fastened with string for easy removal.
6 16th Century Canuck Contraception
During the 16th century, Canadians began using the combination of beaver testicles with moonshine. They ground the beaver balls to fine powder and then added very strong alcohol to the mixture. People would then drink this, with the alcohol helping to forget that they were drinking beaver testicles.
5 Ancient Roman Plan B
Despite the fact that Ancient Rome was quite advanced in many ways, even the most prominent and educated of people still trusted superstition and magic as viable options. In Rome these ancient women would spread the menstrual blood of another woman onto a woman who wanted to prevent conception, or making her step over it.
They would also tie up Asparagus as an amulet or even drinking it as a decoction was believed to prevent conception and render one sterile and another strange belief was drowning a lizard in a man’s urine could bring an anaphrodisiac effect (blunt his libido) upon that man whose urine was used.
4 Hippocrates School of Modern Medicine
Around 400 B.C., writers from the Hippocrates school discussed a contraceptive similar to the intrauterine device (IUD) of today. This particular apparatus was a hollow tube filled with mutton-fat that was inserted in a woman’s womb to keep the cervix open and to prevent pregnancy.
Additionally, a Persian physician in the ninth century recommended dipping a tightly wrapped rod-shaped paper in ginger water and inserting it into the woman's cervix as a means to prevent pregnancy. In the 7th century BC, a Chinese physician Sun Ssu-mo documented the "thousand of gold contraceptive prescription" for women who no longer want to bear children. This prescription, which was supposed to induce sterility, was made of oil and quicksilver heated together for one day and taken orally.
3 Common Sense Contraception
Prolonged breastfeeding was encouraged in the ancient times to eliminate the chances of conception. When a woman is breastfeeding, the return of her menstrual cycle gets delayed. In ancient Egypt, breastfeeding (lactation) of up to three years was used for birth control purposes.
The prehistoric use of coitus Interruptus, more commonly known as the withdrawal method, is seen recorded in the Book of Genesis. This method was practised in ancient times and was more effective than others as the man had to ejaculate outside of the vagina.
of birth control in history, abstinence, has been effective in the past and also in modern times. In some communities, abstinence was practiced before and during certain religious days (i.e., Lent, ethical holidays, etc.)
2 Ancient Contraceptive Methods for Men
Men also had means to prevent impregnating their partners. They would take measures to also use contraceptives to stop from impregnating their sexual partners. Men had to drink pulverized testicles of a mule or other infertile animal to induce sterility. Men were also encouraged to wash their genitalia with vinegar prior to engagement in intercourse.
Men also used cruel methods to prevent conception. This includes a so called sub-incision. In some tribes they used to cut a small hole in the male urethra at the base of the penis, so that semen discharges through the hole instead of entering the vagina during ejaculation. A man had to put a finger on the hole when urinating as well as when he wanted to make his female partner pregnant.
1 The Present
Birth Control methods used to control fertility and prevent pregnancy have been used since ancient times, but safe and secure, effective and efficient methods have become available only since the advent of the 20th century. Starting in the 1930s and intensifying in the '60s and '70s, the birth control movement advocated for the legalization of abortion and large scale education campaigns about contraception by governments.
In the present era, ‘tubal ligation’, IUDs (intrauterine devices) and implantable contraceptives in females and ‘sterilization’ by means of vasectomy in males are considered the most efficient and safe methods of birth control. Also various hormonal contraceptives like oral pills, patches, vaginal rings, and injections are being used for birth control measures.
Condoms, diaphragms and contraceptive sponges are widely used, but are considered to be less effective and safe, including methods like spermicides and quick withdrawal before ejaculation by the male.
Although after reading this list, any woman is likely to be quite thankful for modern medicine and the fact they don't need to use animal dung in their vagina to stop an unwanted pregnancy.