The Crazy Things Women Used as Birth Control in the Nineteenth Century

What kind of birth control methods did Victorian women use to avoid conception? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

After 1870, it was illegal to send birth control or any information about birth control, through the US Mail. Since it was the 19th century and everything was distributed by mail, this pretty much outlawed the practice of birth control.

Everyone still used birth control.

Women have been trying to block sperm from cervix ever since they first suspected what the two did in conjunction. There were three main ways to do this: block the sperm, kill the sperm, rinse out the sperm.

For blockage they were fond of sea sponges, which could be bought in the Sears and Roebuck catalog thus described "ladies fine cup shaped sponge with netting (netting ending in string that allowed the sponge to be removed)." It was of course illegal for S&R to advertise a possible contraception. They just sold sponges, whatever you chose to use them for was not their concern! They also used pessiaries if they could get them, which were/are a sort of medical thumbtacks that doctors used to pin prolapsed organs back into place.

They tried to kill sperm with douches and suppositories. S&R also sold "Ladies Antiseptic Suppositories!" Guarenteed to kill germs wherever you chose to stick it. Or anything that rhymed with "germs." Lysol was also a popular sperm disinfectant, no joke.

Douches were done with the old fashioned type water bottles, but they called them "syringes." Vaginal walls go smooth when a woman is aroused, then they crinkle back up (scientifically speaking!). So trying to rinse out sperm, even with homemade spermicidal recipes (vinegar, ammonia, paprika, they tried everything) had to be done immediately, because once the crinkles came back, you'd never be able to flush all the nooks and crannies out.

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