All throughout history, women have tried various and interesting methods of preventing pregnancy – five are listed below for a short history lesson on ancient contraception methods.
1) Pessaries: This ancient method involved a little recipe consisting of a variety of ingredients—ranging from honey and ground dates to shredded bark and sometimes dung. Combined with salt, the mix formed a gum that was applied inside the vagina to (in theory) act as a spermicide. In today’s day and age, we still have spermicides, but instead of being made up of herbs and crocodile poo, they simply contain chemicals that stop sperm from moving. Word of caution however: on its own, chemical spermicide isn’t super effective, so it is recommended that you use it with another barrier method and discontinue use if it causes any irritation.
2) Solid objects to block the cervix: To prevent pregnancy in some ancient societies, women would simply use a plug of wool, cloth, or chopped grass inserted into the vagina to physically stop any sperm from getting all up in the cervix. Can’t miss this one – a sea sponge wrapped in silk with a string attached for removal was considered the most effective contraceptive in use until the diaphragm was invented in the 1880’s. Nowadays, there are methods (like the diaphragm, cervical cap, and sponge) that do use the similar logic of being a barrier to sperm, but are made of materials like latex or silicone instead of vegetation.
3) Mercury: Many civilizations thought that mercury had amazing medicinal and “magical” powers. In ancient China, it was a common belief that drinking hot mercury could prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately as we know today, this element is super toxic and mercury poisoning can lead to kidney malfunction, respiratory failure, and even death.
4) Olden Days Condoms: In the olden days, people fashioned condoms out of animal bladders or intestines, then held tight to the penis with twine; these were subsequently reused many, many times. Modern day condoms are now typically made with latex, but also polyurethane or polyisoprene. Trojan does sell a sheep“skin” (actually sheep intestine) condom, however it does have pores that allow viruses to go through, for example, HIV. Also, modern condoms should never be reused. But, no worries, you can get as many as you need for free in the Sex Out Loud office!
5) Avoid moonlight: The ancient Greeks believed that a great contraception method was to avoid moonlight. Women were told to block moonlight from their bedroom windows while they were sleeping. This idea most likely arose from the fact that moonlight had the power to “fertilize” – both women and crops. Needless to say, this is not a great choice for a method of birth control, and there is no efficacy data of a “typical” moonlight avoid versus the “perfect” moonlight avoider.
If you want to learn more about the options that you have in today’s day and age (with some help from modern medicine), request Sex Out Loud’s Birth Control 101 Program! In the program we talk about the pros and cons of different methods available today – hormonal, other “natural” methods, and additional barrier methods.