Hideous Birth Control Methods Through The Ages

by Sarah Marshall and Michael Magnes

Some things aren’t as good as they used to be, but that isn’t true of birth control. Some tips from the footnotes of history, used by women (and in some cases, men) far less fortunate than us:

• A pessary made of dried crocodile dung (Ancient Egypt)

• A mixture of olive oil and oil of cedar, placed in the vagina (recommended by Aristotle)

• Bloodletting, as current medical tradition held that sperm was merely blood turned white by the heat humor. The French physician Jacques Ferrand, author of A treatise on lovesickness, recommended that, if moderate bloodletting failed to dampen libido, the man must be bled until he “is ready to fall downe for faintnesse, and losse of blood.”

• A sponge soaked in lemon juice and inserted into the vagina (Medieval Europe)

• The woman must hold her breath during coitus, then sit with her knees bent and sneeze to expel semen (Ancient Greece)

• A pessary made of nettle leaves (Elizabethan England)

• A condom made from tortoise shell or horn, which had the added benefit of concealing impotence (Feudal Japan)

• Emetics and diuretics, which reduced the desire for sex or simply made it impossible (Elizabethan England)

• The woman must eat beans on an empty stomach (Ancient Egypt)

• The woman must drink the froth from a camel’s mouth (Ancient Africa)

• The woman must drink sheep urine or rabbit blood (Medieval Europe)

• Inserting tar or elephant dung into the vagina after coitus (11th-century Persia)

• A pessary made from cat testicles (Ancient Greece)

• Half a lemon skin used as a cervical cap (recommended by Casanova)

• A condom made from a goat bladder, to be worn by the man or the woman (Imperial Rome)

• The woman must wear weasel testicles on her thigh or the amputated foot of a live weasel around her neck (Medieval Europe)

• Onion juice applied to the penis before coitus (Ancient Egypt)

• A numbing genital bath of either cold water or a mixture of ginger and vinegar (Elizabethan England)

• In 1920s and 30s New York, the most common form of birth control was coitus interruptus, which doctors worried would cause impotence in men and a hardening of the uterus in women.

• Coitus obstructus: pressing on the forepart of the testicle to block ejaculation (Used in American Utopian societies in the 19th century, and recommended in Sanskrit texts)

• Ancient Greeks and Romans used Silphium, a giant fennel, as a form of medicinal birth control so much that it is now extinct. Greek coins depicted a woman touching the plant with one hand and her genitals with the other. Its seed resembled the stylized heart shape we know today, and may be its inspiration. (Take that, Hallmark.)

• Some women in rural North Carolina still use a traditional oral contraceptive made from Queen Anne’s Lace seeds, which are chopped and put in a glass of water, which is then drunk. Cutting the seeds releases terpenoids, which block progesterone.

• A pessary made of acacia gum, dates, an unidentified plant, fiber, and honey (Ancient Egypt)

• Coca-Cola douches, as Coke was rumored to be an excellent spermicide, and the classic bottle provided a “shake and shoot” applicator (1950s and 60s America)

• In 1971, a study in China found that six percent of women used “having a husband outside the city” as a form of birth control.

Related: “Don’t Even Brush Your Teeth”: 91 Hangover Cures From 1961

Sarah Marshall has an IUD. Michael Magnes swears by amputated weasel feet.