Like most things in life, you make do with what you’ve got – and when it comes to contraception, the same rule applies. We’d absolutely love it if scientists could invent a robot that delivers contraception to your door and gives you a buzz when it’s time to take it. Instead we have to lug ourselves to the doctors, sit there awkwardly whilst the Doctor unenthusiastically rattles through the extensive list of contraception methods, then wait 3-5 working days before we can pick it up (pretty inconvenient if you ask us!) But imagine a world before all of this.
It would only be right to kick this off where it all started, so let’s rewind a few thousand years to explore some of the weird, wonderful and rather ineffective forms of contraception that have been used over the centuries.
It’s important to remember that the concept of covering the penis to protect from infections and pregnancy isn’t a shiny new idea from today’s scientists. Although there may not have been the luxury of glow in the dark, flavoured, or ribbed condoms, they have in fact been around thousands and thousands of years. It is reported that both the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Egyptians manufactured their own condoms, and considering they didn’t have latex readily available, they had to get creative and it was thought that the men wore linen sheaths to protect them during intercourse. Ouch.
If using linen sheaths didn’t make you cringe enough, men existing in the Ancient eras were also partial to both animal intestines and animal skin, and some reports even state that Japanese men favoured Tortoise shell as their fabric of choice. I’d love to be able to tell you how they decided which animal (or what part of) they would use, but unfortunately I couldn’t find a participant willing to take part in my survey.
Much like the male condom, the female condom is not a recent discovery. The female condom works by covering the cervix so the sperm is unable to get into the womb. Today they are often made from rubber or soft silicone, but historically; they were made from crocodile dung mixed with honey and sodium carbonate, and in some areas of the Middle East, elephant dung. The science behind this method was that the alkaline properties in the poo worked to kill the sperm. Although the ingredients may have been altered slightly in today’s world, they still worked with the same idea, being inserted into the vagina to create a barrier for the sperm.
A method slightly less smelly, but slightly more painful, was using wood to insert into the vagina, which apparently if applied correctly would cover the cervix to stop the sperm from entering. This was a method popular in the Victorian era and thankfully, is not so popular today.
Some people prefer to use methods that shy away from traditional science and focus around more natural methods. Some examples of this are tracking your menstrual cycle, withdrawal, or just simply abstaining from sex altogether. It seems that some things never change, as natural contraception was also popular in the ancient eras. One technique was jumping backwards exactly seven times as well as ‘breathing’ through the vagina. The method behind the madness was that this sudden exercise would stop the sperm from entering the woman’s uterus and prevent her from becoming impregnated.
This technique is almost so similar to the previous one, we think someone may have just got the wrong memo, and when someone said jump, they sneezed instead. It was thought that after intercourse the female must get up immediately and squat down, whilst encouraging a sneeze, which would work to clear the sperm out of the women’s body.
Spitting in a frog’s mouth
When looking for a long lasting method with minimal effort required, this would have been the perfect answer. Mexican shamans were encouraged to find a frog and spit in their mouth after sex with the hope that this would work as a form of contraception for a whole year. Although we can’t be sure on the reasoning behind this mad method, this was one of our favourites.
Another form slightly more stomach churning was wearing animal testicles as amulets and soaking beaver testicles in alcohol then drinking it. I imagine these practices worked extremely well as a form of contraception because no one would want to have sex with them in the first place.
A few thousand years later, and luckily for us girls, in 1839 Gabrielle Fallopian introduced the rubber condom that we are familiar with today. It seems that science has come a long way from animal skin condoms and boy, aren’t we thankful for it! We wonder if in 100 years we’ll be looking back and cringing at the thought of the female contraceptive coil – who knows!