According to the CDC, 83% of all women of reproductive age (15-44) in the United States will use a contraceptive method at some point during their lives. Reliable contraception has allowed women to have considerable freedom; however, this has not always been the case. The following information will make you thankful for the abundance of options currently available in today’s market.
As far back as 1550 B.C., ancient writings noted that Egyptian women were directed to mix crocodile dung, honey, acacia leaves and wool to form a pessary, which was then placed against the cervix to prevent pregnancies. Ancient Greeks reportedly utilized a plant called Silphium, which was so successful in preventing pregnancy, it was harvested to extinction. In Casanova’s memoirs, as documented in the 1700s, he resourcefully detailed the use of a lemon half as a makeshift cervical cap to attempt to prevent pregnancies.
Fish bladders, animal intestines, sea sponges, chastity belts and other substances were creatively used over the years as primitive contraceptive devices: Albeit, without much effectiveness, and certainly did little to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
In the 19th century, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber which led to the manufacturing of rubber condoms. The industrialized nation now had a new scientific method of pregnancy prevention. Unfortunately, Congress, in 1873, passed an anti-obscenity law, which deemed birth control as obscene, and outlawed its use and distribution. This bill was known as The Comstock Law, and was the law of the land until 1938. The Comstock Law was overturned in 1938; however, the Supreme Court didn’t legalize contraception use for married couples until 1965. Remarkably, the use of birth control by unmarried women remained illegal until 1972.
From the 1920s-1960s, Lysol disinfectant was commonly touted to housewives as “feminine hygiene” and was used as contraception. Unfortunately, this was false advertising and not based on scientific fact, and as a result, women died, or suffered severe inflammation and burns.
The FDA approved the first oral contraceptive in 1965 and “the Pill” soon dominated the market with its convenience and effectiveness. The Depo Provera shot was introduced in the 1990s, and soon the Nuva Ring, Patch, IUD and implants followed a decade later.
The future promises to bring even more exciting options for both men and women within the realm of contraception. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced that it is backing a Massachusetts biotech company that is developing an implantable contraceptive that can be activated and deactivated by the user by remote control, according to MIT Technology. A male method for a reversible vasectomy, as well as, a male oral contraceptive pill is also in development and available in the early 2020s.
Historically, both men and women have struggled to find available, imaginative means to prevent pregnancies over the years. Fortunately, science and biotechnology have creatively developed effective contraception for both sexes, and continues to do so.
Thankfully, and I think it goes without saying; we’ve come a long way from crocodile dung and fish bladders.
Dana Humes Goff