With the help of modern science and the latest technology, more and more contraceptive methods are fast becoming available to the public. Although many campaigns are being launched left and right to widen the public awareness on the subject of birth control and help explain how the different contraceptive devices and products work, these often overlook the history of birth control. How did birth control come about?
Back in the day, there were no scientific explanations to prove how birth control worked and people just improvised and went with whatever seemed to work. The oldest methods of contraception (not including abstinence from sex) are the withdrawal method, certain barrier methods, and herbal methods.
The withdrawal method, also known as the coitus interruptus, involves withdrawal of the penis from the vagina before a man reaches his orgasm. It probably predates any other contraceptive method. Experts said that once the connection between a man’s emission of semen into the vagina and conception was suspected or established, men have started practicing it. Different religions have their own views on the subject of withdrawal. According to the book of Genesis, Onan incurred the wrath of God by “spilling his seed on the ground” in opposition to the custom to impregnate his sister-in-law. Ancient Chinese and Indian beliefs indicated that coitus reservatus, or withdrawing the man’s penis without ejaculating, helps retain a man’s virility as they believed that ejaculating releases the yan, the essence of masculinity. They believe that this method isn’t regarded as the most reliable method of contraception as some men lose control and forget to “pull out” when it’s time.
Barrier methods were designed to stop sperm from reaching a fertile egg by means of caps and spermicides. Early Egyptian women have historic records of using a vaginal suppository made up of a concoction of substances that were said to kill sperm. Asian women were said to have used oiled paper as cervical caps, while European women used beeswax. The first condom came about sometime in the 17th century. It was first made of animal intestine. Although the first condom is not as effective as the modern latex condoms, it was used both as a means of birth control and as protection from syphillis, which was then greatly feared as there were still no known cure for the disease.
Throughout the course of history, a lot of different abortifacients have been used by many women. These are natural or synthetic substances that may induce an abortion. A certain 2nd century Greek gynecologist named Soranus suggested women to drink water that blacksmiths use to cool metal. Some women drank solutions mixed with mercury, arsenic, or other toxic materials for the purpose of preventing pregnancy. It works by poisoning the woman’s body so that it will not be conducive to support pregnancy.
The herbal method was said to have been used by ancient tribes to control population. The herbs tansy and pennyroyal were said to have worked the same way as the above-mentioned abortive chemicals, poisoning a woman enough to prevent her body from conceiving, but not enough to kill her. But aside from being abortive, some herbs were used as preventive measures for pregnancy. The hibiscus rosa-sinensis may have antiestrogenic properties that change the hormone levels of women. Papaya seeds were said to have been used as a male contraceptive.
The modern day intra-uterine device (IUD) was said to have come from a folktale about Arab traders who inserted small stones into their camels’ uterus to prevent pregnancy. However, the first IUD that covered the vagina and the uterus was first marketed in the early 1900s. Then finally, the first modern IUD was created in 1909.
Times have changed, and so have birth control methods. They have been enhanced and improved to further accommodate the people who intent to use them. People who have become more and more liberal as culture and society have evolved.