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Chastity Belts And Crocodile Dung: A History Of Birth Control

Long before the pill, people had to get very inventive.
It all started with crocodile dung and honey.
It all started with crocodile dung and honey.

We've come a pretty long way from having to insert crocodile dung into the vagina as a form of effective birth control. The contraceptive pill, modern condoms and IUDs put that to rest a long time ago.

But some birth control methods have been around forever and at least one is still popular today: 'pull and pray.' Also known as the withdrawal method, this risky technique has no doubt resulted in, probably, millions and millions ...okay billions of babies.

Some developing nations didn't quite grasp the correlation between sex and getting pregnant, using local rituals and amulets. But even when it was widely known that intercourse leads to a baby, things didn't really improve for the women.

But as many of us delight in modern methods of 'not getting pregnant,' let's take a look at some of the inventive ways people have come up with to not make babies in the past.

Crocodile or Elephant Dung

The oldest official information regarding contraception comes from the medical records of the Egyptian Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus. This 4000-year-old document records that women used crocodile dung and honey as pessaries for birth control.

It's not quite as strange as it sounds: honey is anti-bacterial so if there are any bugs in the crocodile dung, the honey is likely to guard against infection. Also, the acidic properties of the dung itself would act as a pretty good spermicide. In India, the ladies used elephant dung. Whatever was easily at hand, of course.

The Japanese had a theory that you could cook tadpoles in mercury and drinking it prevented pregnancy.
Rebecca Saikia-Wilson
The Japanese had a theory that you could cook tadpoles in mercury and drinking it prevented pregnancy.

Tadpoles Cooked In Mercury

In ancient times in China, women were told to drink a cup full of tadpoles that had been fried in mercury -- and to swallow this nasty drink straight after intercourse. Unfortunately, this method of birth control also caused liver and kidney damage.

In the worst cases, women became sterile. So in those terms, this was a contraceptive that REALLY worked, in the most brutal manner.

Condoms and Lamb Intestines

Early condoms were not made of latex, they were made of leather. The word 'condom' comes from the Latin, 'condus,' which means 'vessel' or 'container.' The Egyptians were found to have the earliest recorded use of condoms. Some ancient Egyptian paintings, dating back to 900 BC, showed condoms being used.

There are also early drawings showing condom use in Japan but the Egyptian drawings are much older. Historians believe a lubricant must have been used, such as animal fat, otherwise the leather would have been too harsh for penetration.

Condoms were also made from a variety of animal products including the intestines of sheep and goats. In the late 1870s, the Chinese made condoms out of lamb intestines ...and the Japanese fashioned a condom using a tortoise shell or an animal horn.

Perhaps the most cringe worthy condom history goes to the Romans. History shows that Roman soldiers fashioned condoms using the intestines of their enemies...That's a pretty inventive way to wave a victory flag.

Tobacco was once not only for smoking....tobacco juice was once used for birth control.
Getty Images
Tobacco was once not only for smoking....tobacco juice was once used for birth control.

Tobacco Juice

There was a huge variety of female birth control that required a high level of inventiveness. Some early suppository contraceptives have included using ginger, tobacco juice, or olive oil. The idea was women would smear the substances inside their vagina as a spermicide (in the hope it would 'kill' the sperm).

Some of the most common liquid forms of contraception were simple: lemon juice was very popular. Some fabric or cotton wool was soaked in lemon juice and then inserted into the vagina -- a very early form of a cervical cap. Whether it actually worked or not is hard to tell, but at least it was pretty harmless.

The Wooden Block

It's hard to imagine that any woman would contemplate inserting a wooden block 'in there'. But this was a real thing. The wooden block was used as a barrier to stop sperm from entering the cervix. Other barriers used in the past include grass, natural sponges and almost anything else you can imagine.

But the wooden block was, clearly, just wrong. In the 1930s it was officially banned because, let's face it, it must have been sheer torture. Let's sum it up in one word: SPLINTERS.

The Silphium Plant

In the 2nd Century BC, the ancient Greeks swore by this plant for birth control. It grew on the hillsides of the Mediterranean coast and was considered as valuable as silver before the plant literally died out.

The problem was people tried to plant it in other lands but it failed to grow unless it was in that particular hillside area in what's now Libya.

The silphium seed was also said to be an aphrodisiac. So, coupled with its birth control abilities, it was incredibly valuable. Sadly, modern medicine will never have the chance to test whether it really worked.

A metal medieval female chastity belt.
Getty Images/iStockphoto
A metal medieval female chastity belt.

Chastity Belts

While many chastity belts look like Medieval torture machines, they were apparently very useful. Chastity belts gained popularity in the 1800s -- not only as a way to prevent rape but as a way to stop men from continuously impregnating their women.

During the Industrial Revolution, more and more women were entering the workforce so husbands would like their women to wear the monstrous outfit to stop them from cheating. It also prevented masturbation. And pretty much anything else that went on downstairs.

Squat and Sneeze

A 2nd Century Greek gynaecologist known as Soranus managed to muck up some major factors. First, he came up with the original 'Rhythm Method which is still used today; using the fertility cycle and timing intercourse at the time when you are not ovulating. The problem with that is his method depended on a woman ovulating during her period when we now know ovulation occurs prior to menstruation.

Then Soranus came up with the 'squat and sneeze' method which is as ridiculous as it sounds. Yes, the lady was required to squat and then sneeze to dislodge the sperm. If you had trouble sneezing on cue, then you could jump on the spot after sex. OR you could try holding your breath in the middle of the horizontal action.

Okay, love makes the world go 'round.

This story was originally published on 08/09/2016.

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