Let’s talk contraception! Throughout history, methods of birth control have been wide, varied, and sometimes, downright weird. Some were great successes and have continued on into modern times, while others were proven ineffective or even harmful. While preventing pregnancy was the initial goal of many products, over time there have been changes implemented and products and medications invented to prevent STIs as well (we’ll cover that more in the history of condoms section).
We know more today than we ever have about keeping our sex lives healthy, and now, that knowledge extends into protecting our sexual health while preventing unwanted pregnancy.
What is Birth Control?
Before we jump into our time machine to find the earliest mentions of birth control, let’s cover a few explanations. For starters, what is birth control and who should use it? Is there a reason someone shouldn’t use birth control or might not be able to?
Birth control is any method utilized to prevent pregnancy. These can range from remaining celibate to having surgeries performed. Birth control can also be called family planning, contraceptives, fertility control, or even anticonception. Whatever form a person chooses, birth control can be a helpful tool in putting off having children until you are ready, or for your entire lifetime. Birth control can be used by any sex or gender and might be utilized with one partner or both/all engaged in sexual intercourse.
At present, there are many different forms of birth control available (more on them in a bit). It’s important to discuss your options with a medical professional. They’ll go over your medical history to see if any types of contraceptive should be ruled out. They can also give you advice on how your body may react to each one.
There are some people around the world who are still limited in birth control options. This is sometimes due to local availability or government regulations. Some forms of birth control cannot be obtained for those under a certain age. Other circumstances may be due to religious practices preventing their use. In instances where stigma and laws on abortion have changed, you may notice more importance placed on the availability and use of family planning methods.
History of Birth Control
Like we talked about above, throughout human history, there have been many, many attempts to prevent conception. Let’s start wayyyy back and work our way forward as we look at some of them.
Birth Control in Ancient Times
Birth control in Ancient Egypt is described in two papyrus texts that have since been discovered. The Kahun Papyrus, from around 1850 BC, and the Ebers Papyrus, from around 1550 BC, are the earliest known recordings of birth control. Most methods include creating substances to place inside the vagina. They would either act as a spermicide or a blockage of the cervix. While we’re still using spermicides as modern birth control, thankfully we’ve moved on from shoving pastes made from lint or crocodile dung into our nether regions. Probably the healthiest birth control used in the ancient world was extended breastfeeding. This was done for up to three years in Ancient Egypt, according to the papyrus. Also noteworthy of the earliest forms of birth control documented, the Book of Genesis talks about ejaculating onto the ground (what we call “pulling out” today).
One of the plants for birth control used in the ancient world in Greece and Rome is still utilized in India today – Queen Anne’s Lace! Many other plants, like willow, date palm, pomegranate, and myrrh were used as ancient forms of birth control even though some of them were poisonous in higher doses. They likely came into popularity after the extinction of Silphium, a giant fennel that could only be grown in one place located in Northern Africa. Once it became scarce, it was worth more than its weight in silver.
In China, during the 7th century BC, Master Tung-hsuan (a physician) wrote about coitus reservatus and coitus obstructus. Coitus reservatus involved the penetrative partner exerting massive self-control by refraining from ejaculating but maintaining the climax at a plateau. Coitus obstructus refers to blocking ejaculation by pressing on the area between the scrotum and anus.
Modern History of Family Planning in the World
Contraceptive usage has been legalized in Canada since 1969, though abortion was still outlawed. According to a 2015 survey, female sterilization, the pill, and male condom are the most popular forms of birth control among North Americans.
Birth Control Pill
Depending on the person’s needs, they can consist of estrogen and progesterone or progesterone only. They work by preventing fertilization. Taken orally daily in most cases.
Spermicides and Contraceptive Gels
Prevents sperm from reaching the egg(s). Placed in the vagina before intercourse. Available over the counter.
Diaphragm and Cervical Cap
Provides a barrier for the cervix which keeps sperm from reaching the egg(s). This device is placed inside the vagina prior to sex. Use with a spermicide to increase effectiveness.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
This T-shaped device uses either hormones or copper to prevent sperm from meeting egg(s). The hormonal version sometimes prevents ovulation. This birth control option lasts for several years, making it low maintenance. A doctor must insert an IUD (and remove when you’re ready). An IUD is one of the most effective forms of birth control besides abstinence.
The ring is inserted into the vagina where it releases hormones that stop ovulation and thicken cervical mucus. This prevents fertilization. Some must be changed once a month, while others last for a year. Work with your doctor to establish a wearing and “ring-free week” schedule and discuss using this birth control to skip your period if desired.
The patch is worn in several places on the body to release hormones through the skin. These hormones prevent fertilization by stopping ovulation and thickening the mucus on the cervix. They must be changed weekly.
Birth Control Sponge
A sponge made from squishy plastic that is inserted into the vagina before intercourse. It covers the cervix and contains spermicide. This blocks the entrance to the uterus and slows the sperms’ movement.
This injection (repeated every 3 months) contains progestin. This hormone stops ovulation and thickens cervical mucus. This prevents sperm from meeting egg(s).
Nexplanon (Arm Implant)
Progestin is released into your body from a small rod implanted under the skin of your upper arm. This keeps egg and sperm from fertilizing by thickening the cervical mucus and keeping ovulation from occurring. These implants last for up to 5 years. Nexplanon is one of the most effective forms of birth control besides abstinence.
New mothers can choose to extend nursing their children for several years to stop ovulation. They must nurse every 4 hours daily and every 6 hours overnight for this method to be effective. This may also prevent periods for up to six months until the baby begins to eat more solid foods and rely less on lactation as a source of nutrition. Pumping does not have the same effect, as the body will not release the same hormones.
Fertility Awareness (Family Planning)
This method relies on careful planning, abstinence, or a combination of other methods to be successful. The menstrual cycle must be regular if using a calendar to judge when to abstain or use another option, like condoms, during fertile days. Other ways to see if you are ovulating include checking the thickness of cervical mucus and tracking your temperature when you wake up every morning. Combining all three of these methods yields better results.
This involves removing the penis from the vagina before ejaculating. You may want to utilize another form of birth control in combination with pulling out to increase your odds of not getting pregnant.
Condoms (for either partner)
A condom is a pouch that is thin and stretchy. Some are made to cover the penis, while others are made to fit inside the vagina. Either type works to provide a barrier to prevent sperm from reaching the egg(s). They are the only birth control method that also prevents STIs.
Tubal ligation alters the fallopian tubes, so that sperm cannot reach egg(s). Vasectomy alters the small tubes between in the scrotum so sperm can no longer leave the body during intercourse. Sterilization is a surgical procedure that usually cannot be reversed. Sterilization is one of the most effective forms of birth control besides abstinence.
The History of Condoms
We wanted to specifically cover the history of condoms because – well, we carry them at PinkCherry.ca after all. Also, they are widely available and convenient to obtain. When used correctly, they’re effective with rates of 79-85 % at preventing pregnancy. The other big reason we love condoms is that they prevent the spread of STIs. You can use them vaginally, anally, and with sex toys.
We can trace the wearing of condoms back to Ancient Egypt, though it is unclear if they were used for sexual intercourse. While the invention of the condom as we know it today is disputed, it was designed somewhere between 1839 and 1850. Prior to the discovery of rubber vulcanization, skin condoms or linen condoms were used. Fast-forward to the 1920s, and you get the birth of the first latex condoms. Designs have continued to evolve over the years to include textures, colors, lubricants, and even flavors!
Shop for Today’s Most Comfortable Condoms from PinkCherry
Though birth control in ancient times left a lot to be desired, we can be thankful for all the options we have today. The history of condoms has given us options that not only protect but also promote satisfaction for all partners. Thankfully, the history of family planning in the world has led to a wide availability of products and options when it comes to protecting your sexual health. You can put your trust in PinkCherry to provide you with condoms from leading brands in the industry.