Even though the mass use of contraception is a late twentieth century phenomena, it always existed in some form or other since the ancient times. though almost all types of birth control are variations of basic methods like barrier, spermicidal action and inducing hormonal change in the woman’s uterus, some seem quite bizarre according to modern standards and it is anybody’s guess as to whether they would have been effective in preventing pregnancies. here are ten unusual contraceptive methods in history that may raise quite a few eyebrows.
The classical Greeks were one of the first to use plants and herbs as methods of birth control and one particular plan seems to have enjoyed greater reputation in these matters than others. The plan in question is silphium, a member of the fennel family that grew on the shores of Cyrenaica (in present-day Libya).The ancient Greek botanist Theophrastus documented the use of Silphium for contraceptive and abortifacient properties 1. In fact so high was the demand for this plant that it eventually led to the extinction of Silphium during the third or 2nd century BC. After that, asafetida, a close relative of siliphion, was used for its contraceptive properties in ancient Greece.
Like the classical Greeks, the ancient Egyptians also depended upon plant products to prevent pregnancies; in fact An Egyptian manuscript called the Ebers Papyrus 2 directs women on how to mix dates, acacia and honey into a paste, smear it over wool and use it as a pessary to prohibit conception. This recipe probably depends on the binding quality of honey to theoretically prevent the sperm from travelling through the vagina and thus prevent conception. Honey also features as an important ingredient in recipes for home-made pessaries in ancient Indian texts where such preparations made from herbs, leaves and natural substances like honey and ghee were used as methods of birth control.
- Crocodile Dung
A far more bizarre ingredient in birth control pessaries used by Ancient Egyptian women was crocodile dung. Documents dating back to 1850BC refer to this method of contraception3. Since crocodile dung is slightly alkaline, like modern-day spermicides, it may have worked to prevent conception – even more likely the gross ingredient no longer left either party in the mood for making love.
The Citric acid in lemon is believed to have spermicidal properties and women used to soak sponges in lemon juice before inserting them vaginally. Mentioned in the Talmud, this was a preferred method of birth control in ancient Jewish communities. While the sponge itself would act as a pessary—a physical barrier between the sperm and the cervix – the lemon juice would serve to annihilate any sperm that sought to get past the pessary. In fact, the great Italian lover Giacomo Casanova was said to have inserted the rind of half a lemon into his lovers as a primitive cervical cap or diaphragm, also known as the “assurance cap” promoted in the 18th century to prevent impregnating his mistresses.
- Sheep’s gut
Casanova’s resourcefulness as a lover was not just restricted to finding new ways of seducing women but extended to coming up with different contraceptive measures as well. Apart from the “assurance cap” mentioned earlier, another of his inventions was a primitive condom designed out of the gut or bladder of sheep.
- Queen’s Anne’s Lace
However the earliest versions of condoms seems to have been designed by men primarily as protection against STDs; besides it made the job or preventing pregnancy the man’s responsibility – a hardly very reliable thing according to their female partners. Women in earlier times thus continued to use folk methods of contraception like herbs; one of the most popular was Queen Anne’s Lace, also known as wild carrot. its seeds were being used as a contraceptive since the classical times, as evident from its mention by Hippocrates as a form of contraceptive. Queen Anne’s Lace apparently worked since its seeds block progesterone synthesis and thus disrupt implantation. however it was thought to be most effective as emergency contraception within eight hours of exposure to sperm—a sort of ancient equivalent of the “morning after” pill that is much in use today.
A blue-green herb with feathery leaves, Rue is grown as an ornamental plant and is favored by gardeners for its hardiness. It has limited use as a flavoring ingredient in cooking too even though it is rather bitter in taste. Soranus, a gynecologist from 2nd-century Greece, described its use as a potent abortifacient, and women in Latin America have traditionally eaten rue in salads as a contraceptive and drunk rue tea as emergency contraception or to induce abortion. Ingested regularly, rue decreases blood flow to the endometrium, essentially making the lining of the uterus non-nutritive to a fertilized egg.
The seeds of papaya were one of the few plant products that were used as male contraceptive in earlier times. Papaya seeds, taken daily, could cut a man’s sperm count to zero and was safe for long-term use. Best of all, the sterility was reversible: if the man stopped taking the seeds, his sperm count would return to normal. other than this, green papaya was widely used for abortifecant properties in South and South-East Asia. in fact even today in many parts of South Asia, newly pregnant women are advised not to consume papaya for fear of miscarriage.
In ancient China, women were advised to drink hot mercury to prevent pregnancy. Today the toxic effects of mercury are well known as mercury poisoning can cause kidney and lung failure, as well as brain damage and death. But in earlier times probably women fell so sick upon consuming mercury that they either miscarried or did not feel fit enough to have sex – in this sense it is likely that, mercury may have been used as a contraceptive.
- Soda pop
A relatively more modern method was the use of carbonated soft drinks as a post-coital douche. this worked on the theory that using a liquid to flush out the cervix after coitus would prevent the fertilization of the sperm and egg. in case of soft drinks, carbonation and sugar was thought to kill sperms. needless to say, it did not only prove ineffective at preventing pregnancies but instead was a waste of perfectly good soda pop.
- Lipsey, Richard G.; Carlaw, Kenneth; Bekar, Clifford (2005). "Historical Record on the Control of Family Size". Economic Transformations: General Purpose Technologies and Long-Term Economic Growth Oxford University Press. Pp. 335–40. ISBN 978-0-19-928564-8.
- Time Magazine - A Brief History of Birth Control
- Mail Online - When crocodile dung was contraception