Early Contraceptives

Contraceptives are items that can be found in every culture at every time in human history. Being that we are one of the few creatures on this planet that actually enjoy the act of sex in a way completely outside the wish to procreate has naturally lead to this unabashed interest in insuring that the enjoyable aspects of this act can stand totally outside the natural outcome that is childbirth. However, many of the methods that humanity has devised to achieve this end can show us yet another example of how truly twisted and misguided we can be as a species.

Contraceptives, for our purposes, can be broken down into 3 types:

Oral Contraceptives The various concoctions humanity has developed to stop pregnancy are many and varied. Often they could include things such as oils, fruits, grains, urine, animal parts, arsenic, strychnine, vinegar, lemon juice, and other insane items. It is recorded that the Roman God Soranus decreed that the drinking of the water that Blacksmiths used to cool heated metal would be highly effective. The Chinese have an ancient method involving mercury and bamboo tea. German folk medicine recommends a mixture of marjoram, thyme, parsley, and lavender in a tea form. The Greeks swore by diluted copper ore, the Italians sipped a tea made from Willow leaves and mule’s hoof, the Africans favored gunpowder and the foam from a camel’s mouth, and Canadian Indians drank an alcohol brewed with dried beaver testicles. Other items used in oral contraceptives included a paste of mashed ants, the tail hairs of the black-tailed deer dissolved in bear fat, turpentine, castor oil, tensey tea, quinine water in which a rusty nail had been soaked, horseradish, ginger, Epsom salts, ammonia, mustard, gin with iron filings, rosemary and opium.

Pessaries These are vaginal suppositories used to kill sperm and/or block the passage of sperm through the cervix. If you thought the oral stuff was fucked, wait till you get a load of these (pun completely intended). The Egyptians held a firm belief that an insertion of crocodile dung and honey would stop sperm. European women were known to do the same with beeswax and the gums of various trees. Other mixtures includes olive oil (something recommended by Aristotle), pomegranate pulp, ginger, tobacco juice, wads of oiled paper, soft wool soaked in vinegar or lemon juice (or simply a whole lemon half), eggs, linen rags, balls of bamboo tissue paper, plugs of chopped grass, sea sponges wrapped in silk with a string attached, or even blocks of wood. The Arabs are known for inventing the IUD (Intrauterine Device) when they discovered that they could stick pebbles into the uteruses of their camels to prevent them from getting pregnant on long trips across the desert or to market (and thereby creating a whole new method of female contraceptive torture). This IUD worked by creating a mild infection in the uterus that prevents the fertilization and implantation of eggs. Various forms of IUD’s were developed for human females made from copper or later polyethylene, and in 1920 the German Gynecologist Grafenberg developed an IUD made of catgut and silver wire.

Others There are a vast number of other methods of contraception that don’t fall into the above two categories that are also quite interesting. The Greeks believed that jumping backwards seven times after intercourse would shake loose developing eggs. Other activities included strenuous exercise, heavy lifting, climbing trees, and hot baths. And as late as the 20th Century Jewish women in Manhattan’s Lower East Side attempted to kill deposited sperm by sitting over a steaming pot of stewed onions (a method that is also described in a 8th Century Sanskrit text). Oh, and let us not forget the condom, which over the years has been made from everything from the lining of lamb stomach to saran wrap. One of the earliest forms of condom was created by the Egyptians who wore condoms made out of fabric not as a contraceptive but as protection from insect bites.


Update: For a related entry about this subject, check out this article from Damn Interesting:



~ by herodotuswept on November 14, 2007.

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