Women have always been trying to find methods to avoid becoming pregnant. As long as men and women have been having sex, the pregnancy problem has faced women. While today we have methods such as condoms and pills, some of the ancient ways seem pretty out there compared to today. I wouldn’t suggest trying any of the methods below, but they are interesting to read about. (There’s a quick video on this subject at the bottom of this page, too.)
Crocodile Dung and Honey from Egypt, 3021 B.C.
Ancient Egyptians used a disgusting mixture of crocodile dung and honey as a spermicide. Honey is a natural antibiotic. Crocodile dung has alkaline properties that help negate sperm, too. The mixture would be inserted into the vagina. However, this method doesn’t seem very romantic to me. I imagine the smell would dampen the mood, as well.
Elephant Dung Pessaries from India, 1st Century A.D.
India may be known for inner peace and yoga nowadays, but in ancient times they were known for using a form of animal dung for birth control. The mixture included clarified butter or ghee, rock salt soaked in oil, palasha seeds, and elephant dung. The object inserted was a six-sided, wooden block known as “pessaries.” The blocks were later banned as being an “instrument of torture.: The elephant dung and tree seeds were resinous and acted as spermicides.
Weasel Testicle Patch from Europe, Middle Ages
Ah, the first birth control patch! The testicles were tied around the thigh with rope. The woman would also wear a weasel bone on herself in addition to the testicles. I could just imagine the bedroom atmosphere in those situations. “Don’t worry, honey – that just makes sure I won’t get pregnant.”
Beaver Testicle Pulp and Alcohol from Canada, 1560-1730
Obviously, some alcohol was needed to try this method. It was believed that making a cocktail with beaver testicles protected you from becoming pregnant. At least the men were often the ones drinking the potions. Often the cocktails would contain crushed-up testicles from other animals, such as horse and mule, as well. Just how drunk were the people who’decided these methods worked?
Liquid Mercury and Lead from Ancient China
This is the most dangerous method of the list. Chinese women would drink liquid mercury and lead to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The metals would have caused liver, kidney, and brain damage, and eventually death. I would think a woman would have to be extremely desperate to try this method.
Peppermint, Asparagus Stalk, and Sneezing from Ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks had a method that was a lot easier on the nose. They used a combination of peppermint and honey. Another option was to wear an asparagus necklace. The most silly method was to hold your breath, sneeze, and drink cold water. If none of the methods were effective, there was always the kicking your heels in your butt until the pregnancy removed itself. A more drastic method to end a pregnancy was to drink the cooled water of a blacksmith. None of these methods sound effective, and one sounds plain dangerous.
Onion Juice from France, 17th Century
France is known for pastries and breads, but also for strange contraceptive methods. In the 1600s, onion juice was believed to be effective for preventing pregnancy. I wonder if bad onion breath ranks as bad as garlic breath?
Marseille Soap Suppository from Russia, 20th Century
Oh, finally a pleasant smelling method! Russian women would place soap suppositories in their vaginas. That is certainly a lot better than smelling like animal dung.
Cola from United States, 1970s
Flushing the vagina has commonly been believed to help prevent pregnancy. Cola was once thought to be a good flushing agent to use against sperm. Women would pour the soda on the vagina to try and flush the sperm out. It was called the “shake and shoot” method. I know cola has many uses besides just a beverage, but I can’t fathom how this myth was started.
Metal Thimble from Europe, 19th Century
European women would wear a metal thimble, which they believed acted as a diaphragm. It was a painful method and would cause women to bleed. The wounds would often turn septic and the woman’s health would be in danger.
Exile from British Columbia, 19th Century
The Currier Indians would exile their women when they started their menstrual cycles. The women were considered a “bad omen” when having their periods. The women were not allowed to step on a regular road while they were considered cursed. This method punished the women for what happens naturally.
Sponge Soaked in Lemon Juice from Turkey, 20th Century
Another pleasant-smelling method! Women would use a half-squeezed lemon like a diaphragm to prevent sperm. The high acidity of citric juices may have possibly worked as a spermicide. However, citric juices are not effective overall as birth control and can damage the vaginal tissues.
Breastfeeding from Ancient Mesopotamia
After having a baby, women were expected to breastfeed over the next few years. The babies would have great health, and the women didn’t have periods during the time. That may have been the case then, but women these days can still have periods while breastfeeding.
And for a recap, enjoy this video below from EngenderHealth:
Science has come a long way in finding effective methods to prevent pregnancy. There are still parts of the world that are primitive in their culture and development. I can’t help but wonder what methods the women in those cultures are using. I am grateful to be able to choose modern methods today for my life and my body after this glimpse into what women may have used in the past.