One of the things I hear most often when I’m on various motherhood websites, more specifically when I’m on the Sex and Relationships sections, is that women feel there are not a lot of options for birth control, or not a lot that do not involve hormones. They want advances, and I agree, we could use another jump in just how we handle birth control that doesn’t involve messing with a woman’s hormones and making her have a slew of side effects, some that are potentially lethal.
This is 2016, we should be working on this; and we are. Did you know there is actually a birth control that is coming out, hopefully, for men, that simply involves them flipping a switch in their testicles? We’ve all wished we could just flip a switch and boom, no risk of babies. I mean, it may not have been said in that many words, but it’s something I’m sure we’ve all thought of. And now, it’s happening. The switch shuts off the flow of semen from rising and being ejaculated. It’s pretty amazing stuff.
For us women, though, we don’t have a switch that turns off our eggs yet. We have hormones, which can mess with us in many ways, both emotionally and physically, we have barrier methods, but you can’t just get a female condom or a diaphragm in the local store, we have creams and foams, but we have to insert them and we have to pray we’re not allergic, and we have IUD’s, which are innovative as can be, but still carry some hefty risks. We can also tie our tubes, but that’s expensive to reverse, if it can be reversed at all.
Our options are pretty limited and we’ve been dealing with it since Ancient times. Some of the methods we came up with to prevent pregnancy were pretty, well, interesting, and many of them could make you sick. Besides, you wouldn’t want to shove this stuff up there anyhow now, believe me.
If nothing else, this one will leave you smelling lemony fresh! Dating back to the Talmud, with this method, women would soak sponges in lemon juice and insert them into the vagina. The basic idea was that, hopefully, the citric acid in the juice would act as a spermicide, and prevent impregnation. Can you imagine how bad that would burn? If you’ve ever gotten lemon juice in a cut, then imagine how badly that would hurt if, say, you weren’t properly lubricated, and lemon juice got into a micro cut in the vagina? Ouch! But, it’s a small price to pay for a lemony fresh vagina.
13 Dried Crocodile Dung
Ah, the smell of crocodile poop, doesn’t that just set the mood? Dating back to 1850 BC, this is known as the earliest contraceptive device for women, so it does have it’s place in paving the way for our current methods of birth control.
They would take crocodile dung, honey, and sodium carbonate, mix it together in a stinky, sticky concoction, and then shove that into the vagina to block and kill sperm. For whatever reason, someone saw this poop and said, “Hey! I wonder if that would block off my husband’s baby juices... let’s shove it up my vagina and find out!”
It’s ouch factor is that it poses a HIGH risk for infection. While, yes, the honey probably worked in their favor as an antibacterial agent, it couldn’t have prevented all infections.
If crocodile poop just doesn’t get you in the mood, maybe slicing yourself open and bleeding out a bit will! In 17th century England, one of the common forms of birth control was bloodletting, although it would get you punished by the church.
This contraceptive method was done by both men and women. The current French medical tradition held that sperm was just blood turned white due to heat. The idea was that if you bled enough, it would dampen your libido. No libido, no babies.
Women would also practice bloodletting, due to the limited understandings of how pregnancy worked, sometimes women would be advised by apothecaries to practice bloodletting for help with things ranging from preventing pregnancy to controlling menstruation. Oh, and they sometimes also used leeches. Fun times. The ouch factor is obvious here... It obviously hurts to slice yourself like a loaf of bread and bleed.
11 Queen Anne’s Lace
You may see this plant out and about when you’re mowing your lawn, we consider it a weed now. Queen Anne’s Lace, which is also known as wild carrot, has been used for a long time as a contraceptive.
The seeds block progesterone synthesis, disrupt implantation, and they are most effective as emergency contraceptive within eight hours after exposure to sperm. There were no or few side effects, maybe a bit of constipation, and women who stopped taking it would conceive and raise a healthy child.
So, why is it on this list, you’re probably asking. Well, the main danger to this plant, is that it is easily confused with the deadly poisonous plants, hemlock and water hemlock, which can and will kill you when taken.
10 Nettle leaves
In case you’re unaware what nettles are, let me just describe the pain that comes with touching one; your skin flares up in angry welts, and turns a fiery red. You itch, but scratching brings on more pain. And the pain, it’s agonizing. It feels like you’re on fire.
Now that I’ve explained the pain, a nettle is a plant, covered in stinging hairs. And in Elizabethan England, pessaries made of these leaves were one of the recommended birth controls that were suggested to women.
One can only imagine how bad one’s vagina would hurt after putting this plant up there. If you’re wondering why it was done, I’ve yet to find a solid answer. All I’ve found is that, for whatever reason, stinging leaves made their way up vaginas.
9 Tortoise Shell Condoms
You’re probably thinking, OK, condoms aren’t so bad, right! Well, in Japan, they used to use condoms made of tortoise shell. And yes, it was penis shaped.
Actually, pictures of them, if you want to look them up, show that they look a lot like an adult toy. It has ridges, it’s hard, and it covers the entire penis. The ouch factor? This one’s more of an ouch for the guys, because when it chipped or cracked, guess what skin was likely to get stuck or nipped in it? Thats right!
8 Drinking Camel Froth
So, there’s a good chance that you’re enjoying a coffee or something else while reading this. If you are, I’d put it down if you already haven’t, because these next couple of methods will leave a rotten taste in your mouth.
In Ancient Africa, women thought that drinking the froth from a camel’s mouth, and yes, that means guzzling camel spit, would protect them from pregnancy. Obviously, no science shows that this would even partially work in any way, shape, or form. So don’t hit up the zoo for camel spit hoping to not need the pill anymore, because its not going to work.
But they thought it did, so drink it they did. The ouch factor comes in here when you consider the infections or stomach illnesses that had to come with this method, because, you’re drinking spit. That’s going to add a lot of bacteria to your gut that should not be there. And on that note...
7 Drinking Sheep Urine or Rabbit Blood
If you think camel froth sounds yummy, this next one should be a delicacy for you! Let’s head back to Medieval England. You’re getting frisky with a very handsome man, a Marquis, or a nobleman for those of you who aren’t as into medieval romance stories as I am. You’re close to doing the deed, but you don’t want to get pregnant, so you stop him, and go into your night-side stand, and pull out a vial of yellow liquid and take it, then go back to kissing. Congratulations, you just used the Medieval form of birth control more commonly known as sheep pee.
Apothecaries and others would gather the urine from sheep, believing that drinking it would prevent pregnancy. Along those same lines, they would drain rabbits of their blood and drink that as well. The ouch factor here is again in the form of potential illnesses and parasites, because there are a ton of parasites that can live in blood and urine. Delish!!
6 Elephant Dung
You remember the crocodile poop from the Egyptians? Well, India had the same idea, but they don’t exactly have the crocodile supply that the Egyptians had. So instead, they went with something they did have an abundance of; elephants.
Whatever works for you, but I don’t recommend fishing in the cat box and using it. The ouch factor here is the infections that could arise from this. There’s a reason we’re taught to wipe front to back and not back to front, and that’s because getting poop in your vagina can be very bad.
5 Lemons Part 2- "The Return"
We’ve returned to the land of lemony fresh vaginas. In the 18th century, Casanova is said to have discovered this use for lemons as contraceptive. A lemon is halved, squeezed, and the rind was placed over the uterine opening like a cap.
If this sounds familiar, well, it should, because we have forms of birth control that are similar now, such as the cervical cap. Again, this one’s on the ouch scale because of the risk of micro cuts and the juice getting into a cut or tear. I’m wincing just imagining it again. I don’t think I want any lemonade for a while now, thanks...
We’re back to those innovative Egyptians again! This time, they’ve got something for the men to use to try and prevent pregnancy; onions! The method? Well, you know that awesome juice that comes from onions that makes you cry? Yep, they used that...dripped into the tip of the penis or dripped in or on the foreskin.
I sincerely doubt that this method was effective as a spermicide or anything like that, and it’s likely that part of why they worked is that they served to repel the sexual partner, making sex nearly impossible. I know I wouldn’t be too keen to let him around me if his penis smelled like raw onion. That smell can take forever to come off, too.
Ouch factor? Well, I can’t imagine that dripping onion in the penis would feel pleasant. In fact, I think it would burn, and my fiance agreed on that one.
4 Coca-Cola Douche
This method, while old, really isn’t that ancient, but it deserves a spot on this list for sure. Women actually used douches containing Coca-Cola, yes the soda, in them, and flushed out their vaginas after sex, in an attempt to prevent pregnancy. And there was actually a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and it was as recent as 1985, claiming that this actually worked!
Before you go grabbing that bottle of Coca-Cola, though, keep reading. More research was done testing the spermicidal qualities of the soda, and it was found that it really wasn’t all that effective as a contraceptive agent after all. Ouch factor? It comes from the fact, and this was mentioned in the more recent research, that putting Coca-Cola in the vagina can cause; you guessed it, bacterial vaginal infections.
Of course someone would try to use various heavy metals for birth control. I mean, they used them for just about everything else, so why is this so different?
Many civilizations saw mercury as a curative substance with medicinal value, and it was used to treat a variety of things, including skin rashes and syphilis. In Ancient China, women would drink hot mercury, because I guess it was gross when it’s cold, as a way to prevent pregnancy.
It probably didn’t prevent pregnancy, but it likely did induce a miscarriage. That said, it also led to lung and kidney failure, brain damage, or death. The ouch factor is pretty obvious here, right? I mean, brain damage and death; no thank you!
I’m pretty sure you’ve figured out by now that lead is bad for your general health, right? It’s toxic, and has been known to cause memory loss, weakness, and abdominal pain, and those are only short term effects. Death is a potential long term effect. But, in ancient China and Greece, women would drink lead infused water to prevent pregnancy.
During World War 1, some women would even take jobs working with lead based materials purposely, as they considered it to be free birth control. And they weren’t exactly wrong, since reduced fertility is a side effect of lead exposure. But, considering the side effects, it almost makes you miss the lemony fresh vaginas, doesn’t it? This is another one where the ouch factor is obvious.
1 Stem Pessary: The First IUDs
I’ll bet you weren’t expecting to see an IUD on this list, huh? That being said, we aren't exactly discussing the Mirena or the Paragard IUD’s, which by the way stands for intrauterine device. Nope, these IUD’s are credited to Hippocrates, the Ancient Greek father of medicine himself, and he had the idea that putting small objects in the human uterus would possibly prevent pregnancy.
It didn’t become commonplace, though, until two Millenia later. In the 19th century we saw the first precursors to the current, modern IUD, and this was known as a stem pessary. It was made of a precious metal, like gold and silver, or glass, and was mushroom shaped, with a curved disk that would fit into the upper vagina like a cervical cap. The ‘stem’ would pass through the cervix in order to hold it in place. Sometimes, the stem would be more wishbone shaped, and the arms would be held down by a dissolving gelatin during insertion.
The absence of flexible materials and antibiotics and a sterile technique caused the ouch factor here, which was serious injury or infections, and both could lead to future infertility. Childbirth, at the time, was remarkably dangerous, and understanding that will help you understand why determined people took the chance to try and prevent pregnancy.
From lemony fresh vaginas to methods that could leave you looking for new real estate in a pine box, these methods show just how far we’ve come since Ancient times. We’re a lot better off than we used to be, but believe me, advances can still be made. So, which birth control method made you cringe the most?