Today’s post was written by one of our fabulous interns, whom we appreciate so much!
In recent years, contraception has become quite a hot button issue. The use of it, though, dates back to the Ancient Egyptians.
Our ancient ancestors did not have advanced technology or extensive knowledge on the human body and our reproductive system but that did not stop them from developing some of the earliest forms of contraception. In Ancient Egypt, it was found that a type of shrub and tree, known as acacia, when fermented had a spermicide effect. This was usually combined with cotton, dates, and honey. The “pull-out method” was also discussed in both the Koran and the Bible.
The use of plants as contraceptives continued through Medieval and Early Modern Europe. In the 13th century, Pope John XXI wrote in the Treasury of Medicines for the Poor that chaste plant, rue, sage, and even pepper could be used to prevent pregnancy. One of the more creative methods in the 1700s was brewed alcohol and dried beaver testicle, but since plants alone continued to dominate, it is safe to say that dried beaver testicle may not have been extremely popular. Medieval Europe did run into conflicts with contraception, though. The Church deemed contraception to be witchcraft, so people turned to more “natural” methods. In 16th and 17th century France, it was believed that the female and male had to orgasm in order to conceive. People believed that the uterus “sucked” up the sperm when the woman reached orgasm. For many years, the female orgasm was held at high standards and was equated with new life.
When Europe experienced what is believed to be the first outbreak of syphilis in 16th century Italy, Gabriele Falloppoi developed the first condom out of linen sheaths soaked in chemicals and then dried. Though it was used as a way to prevent syphilis and other diseases, it would eventually be used as a contraceptive as well.
Those who wished to use a condom instead of herbs to prevent pregnancy were stuck with linen sheaths, or more commonly, the intestines of pigs. They were easy to make and therefore not too expensive. This all changed, though, in 1839 with the creation of vulcanized rubber. What made this different from synthetic rubber or natural rubber was that it was more elastic and therefore able to be formed into a condom. Private companies and chemists began advertising the “reusable condom.” These condoms came in their own fancy box with instructions on the bottom of the lid. The “reusable condom,” unlike the combination of alcohol and beaver testicle, was extremely popular. Fortunately, these would not be around for an extremely long time because less than 100 years later, there would be the first serious discussion on creating a chemical birth control pill.
As the world entered the 20th century, Margaret Sanger appeared. She took the reproductive rights bull by the horns and between 1914 and 1921 made immense strides in reproductive healthcare! In this short amount of time she coined the term “birth control,” opened the first birth control clinic in New York, and she started the American Birth Control League that was the precursor to Planned Parenthood. Not long after, she met a chemist named Gregory Pincus and in the 1950s began developing the first birth control. With this being such a new and progressive idea, Pincus and Sanger teamed up with a gynecologist named John Rock. With a $40,000 grant from Sanger, Pincus and Rock were able to perform their first human trials in 1954. After 2 years it was time to move to large scale trials. The women of Puerto Rico expressed a need for birth control because they were having far too many children on very little money. Their needs were met in 1956. Puerto Rico was a great place for large scale testing because there was the demand and there were no laws concerning contraception at the time in the country.
After 3 years of testing, the FDA finally approved the birth control pill in 1960. Despite it being illegal in 8 states, it was reported by the FDA that in 1965 over 6.5 million women were using it. Since its creation, the pill has been advanced and used as a contraceptive, a period regulator, a way to reduce acne, and as a way to ease cramps caused by PMS.
In a little over 2,000 years, we have gone from using herbs, animal intestine, and “witchcraft” to using hygienic and chemically safe medication in order to regulate when we have children.
Though the pill and condoms still have negative side effects and impact us all differently, they can still be seen as a better alternative to reusable condoms and pig intestine!