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History of Birth Control

By Edited Oct 22, 2015 0 0

Birth control, in all of its various formats, are usually pretty controversial in some cultures. In the US, it is highly recommended by physicians and other sexual health experts mainly because the spread of sexual disease can be quite rampant, and teen pregnancy rates are on the incline. Condoms and birth control pills are a very common method of contraception, but they weren't always the most popular choice in birth control.

This infographic demonstrates the history of birth control, from ancient times to the modern day.

Birth Control

Image courtesy of Laboratory Technician

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Ancient Egypt - Method: Food

Egyptian documents dating from 1500 B.C. list substances that stop pregnancy, generally by inserting different recipes into the vagina.

These recipes included:

  • Sour Milk
  • Acacia Gum
  • Dates
  • Crocodile Dung… In Sour Milk

Ancient Greece - Method: Plants

Aristotle mentions using natural chemical as spermacides

Some rather questionable examples:

  • Cedar Oil
  • Lead Ointment
  • Frankin-Cense OIl
  • Silphium (giant fennel)

Middle Ages

The study of medicine moved into the university setting, and the curriculum moved toward more theory and less practice. The advent of such a system then created some brand new institutions, with some interesting consequences.

Because the vast majority of current midwives were illiterate and couldn't afford schooling, the childbirth domain began to move from midwives to trained physicians, and thus, from women to men.

Gynecology, however, was still practiced mostly by the midwives who had learned the uses of herbs. They knew how to identify the plants, how to harvest them, and when to administer them.

Scientific Beginning - Method: Science!

In the 16th century with the advent of universities, birth control started moving away from foods and plants, and towards the experimentation with chemicals discovered in university settings. Often a chemicals' ability to prevent pregnancy was known long before the other effects they have on the woman.

Casanova 'Experiments' with birth control, using the rind of half of a lemon as a primitive cervical cap

Charles Knowlton, a physician from Massachusetts, invents a birth control method that requires injecting a recipe into the uterus, by syringe, after intercourse. The recipe? Water, salt, vinegar, liquid chloride, and zinc sulphate or aluminium potassium sulfite. The syringe remains in practice for the next 40 years.

Charles Goodyear invents the technology to vulcanize rubber. Through this discovery begins the early development of manufacturing rubber condoms, intrauterine devices, douching syringes and diaphragms.

A big step forward is made when scientists discover that conception occurs when the sperm enters the female egg.

Late 19th Century - Method: Better Science!

Spoiler Alert: Scientific progress held back by politics and religion!

Pope Pius IX declares the human soul is born at conception and therefore outlaws abortion among Catholics.

Congress passes the Comstock Act, which lists contraceptives as obscene material and outlaws the dissemination of them via the postal service or interstate commerce. At the time, the United States is the only western nation to enact laws criminalizing birth control. How progressive!

Dr. Wihelm Mensinga invents a larger cervical cap, which becomes known as the "diaphragm"

Vieness gynaecologist Emil Knauer discovers the, "existence of chemicals that control the body's metabolic processes." After studying a wide variety of them, in 1905 he names the mysterious chemicals "hormones", from the Greek hormao, "stir up" or "incite".

20th Century - Method: The Pill

Margaret Sanger goes on the offensive and makes oral birth control a reality, changing the face of women's health forever.

Pill-pioneer and New York nurse Margaret Sanger coins the term "birth control", and in her radical journal, The Woman Rebel, uses the term and advises women on times when it would be advantageous to avoid pregnancy. She's indicted for nine violations of the Comstock Law. She flees to England to avoid charges.

Margaret Sanger, with her sister and a friend, open the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY. Ten days later the clinic is raided, shut down, and the women are arrested

Margaret Sanger establishes the American Birth Control League, the precursor of Planned Parenthood. In the 1920's the birth rate declines by almost half. Between 1800 and 1900 the average family size shrinks from 7.0 to 3.5 children.

The discovery of the connection of the connection between the pituitary gland and the human reproduction system leads to the invention of the pregnancy test.

During the Great Depression, companies eager to sell still-illegal contraceptive products use the term "feminine hygiene" to market a variety of over-the-counter products. One of the most popular was the cheap "Lysol douche".

Chemistry professor Russell Marker discovers a way to make synthetic progesterone with Mexican wild yams, known as cebeza de negr. His discovery makes progesterone production affordable and will become the basis for hormonal birth control.

Margaret Sanger commissions Gregory Pincus to create a pill containing hormones. The next nine years are made up of incessant research, fundraising, and fighting for women's rights to control when they become pregnant.

The pill is approved by the FDA, and by 1963, although still illegal in some states, 2.3 million American women are on the pill.

Among a national interview sample of 1049 married white women, 71% reported having practices contraception. The techniques used were the condom (54%), contraceptive douche (47%), withdrawal (45%), rhythm (24%) and cervical diaphragm (17%)

10.4 billion condoms were used worldwide, many in festive colors!

Present Day

Today, there are a huge assortment of birth control methods ranging from least effective to most effective.

Most Affective (less than 1 pregnancy per 100)

  • Vasectomy
  • Female Sterilization
  • IUD
  • Implant

Extremely Effective (2-8 pregnancies per 100)

  • Lam
  • Shot
  • Pill
  • Nuva Ring
  • Patch

Very Effective (15-25 pregnancies per 100)

  • Condom (male)
  • Diaphragm
  • Condom (female)
  • Cervical Cap
  • Sponge
  • Fertility based methods


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