Practice English Speaking&Listening with: What Did People Use for Birth Control Before Condoms and the Pill?

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Pregnancy prevention around the world has a lengthy history that includes many surprisingly

effective but occasionally lethal methods of contraceptionEarly contraceptive options

offered an array of colorful, creative (and in some cases, incredibly smelly) choices

that included innovative options in barrier devices, spermicides, and oral contraceptives.

Beyond these devices and substances, one of the oldest known methods still in use and

relatively popular today was coitus interruptus (a.k.a. "Pull and Pray" or "Withdrawal"),

with the earliest documented use of this being found in the Bible in a story estimated to

have been written about 2500 years agoThis is the tale of Onan, who was supposed

to be getting his brother's widow, Tamar, pregnant to provide an heir for his deceased

siblingInstead, he simply had sex with her and withdrew "spill[ing] his seed on the

ground" to make sure she wouldn't get pregnant. Despite the pull and pray methods bad reputation,

it turns out, as long as you get the "pull" part right, there really isn't much praying

necessaryAmong other studies, research done in 2008 at the Guttmacher Institute in

New York demonstrated the withdrawal method, when executed perfectly, is 96% effective

for preventing pregnancy. This basically means over the course of a year 4 out of 100 women

who use this method as their primary form of birth control will become pregnant in that

yearFor comparison, using a condom, when done perfectly, is 98% effective and oral

contraception has a "perfect use" rate of 99.7% effective.

Now this is when all three methods are done "perfectly", so what about in actual practice

with everyday peopleThe pull and pray method is roughly 82% effective while using

a condom is roughly 83% effective, so you are only getting a 1% improvement for your

moneyThe pill, in contrast, does offer a much better "real world use" rate of about

96%. And, of course, some people just dont like to do thepullpart and it puts

an awful lot of trust in the guy to do his job. Nevertheless, for trusting partners and

where STIs arent really a concern, it turns out historically when talking preventing pregnancy,

people have always had something basically as good as condoms at their disposal.

And, of course, performing the withdrawal method "perfectly" isn't too complex- the

withdrawal part being obvious and simply a matter of doing itThat said, there is

one way you can get this part right and still mess up. While you might be thinking pre-cum

would be the culprit, it turns out studies show pre-cum does not typically contain viable

sperm outside of the case of the real problem- residual sperm in the male's urethra from

a previous, but very recent sexual encounterThis problem can be gotten around simply by

the man urinating between sexual encountersso not too complex a thing to get right either.

Given its simplicity, its perhaps unsurprising that previous to the Roman Empire, evidence

suggests that the withdrawal method was one of the primary forms of contraception used.

This fell out of popularity with the Romans who favored other methods available at the

time, most of which have been lost to history, but from anecdotal evidence many of them seem

to have been quite effective themselves. One that is known is that they used Queen Anne's

lace, which is still occasionally used as a form of contraception in some parts of the

world, such as India, and has been shown to have anti-fertility properties.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, most methods of contraception fell out of practice in the

Western world partially from the influence of Christianity, as birth control historically

was seen as sinful within the church, and perhaps also simply because the knowledge

of many of the effective methods was lostIt is generally thought people still popularly

used the pull method, even if it wasnt discussed in polite conversation or recorded.

Around the early 19th century, however, documented history shows the pull method saw a huge surge

in popularity all over societies the world over and was one of the leading forms of contraception

until methods such as the modern condom and the pill were introducedToday, around

2.5% of the world's population still uses the withdrawal method as the primary method

of birth control and an estimated 52% of people have used it at least once as an intentional

method of birth control, rather than just withdrawing for, you know, other reasons...

Another contraception method that isn't as new as many people think is the condom.

Although, early versions of the condom didn't always cover the entire penis and, of course,

they certainly weren't made of latex. For example, love-making in Asia often relied

on devices called glans condoms, which addressed only the head of the penis. Animal parts were

a popular choice for making these condoms. The Chinese fashioned theirs out of lamb intestines,

while the Japanese used tortoise shell (called 'kabutoga') or animal horn throughout the

1870s. Animal offal is the internal organs and entrails

of butchered animals, and not the first thing that comes to mind concerning birth control.

But to the Europeans living during the mid-1700s, these organ meats were transformed into their

way of preventing babies. Slaughterhouse workers would style early condoms out of sausage skins.

Interestingly, Jules (Julius) Schmid, the creator of the now-infamous Sheik and Ramses

brands of condoms was once a sausage-maker who made lamb-gut condoms in the 1880s.

Glans condoms were also made out of fabric. There are ancient accounts suggesting early

Egyptians living around 1000 B.C. used linen sheaths during intercourse to protect against

disease. In the 16th century, the Europeans also soaked linen sheaths in a chemical solution

that was laid out to dry before use. Pieces of the cloth were measured to cover the glans

of the penis, and later held in place with ribbon.

Fast-forward to one of the crowning achievements of the industrialized world, Charles Goodyear's

vulcanization of rubber in 1839 would eventually lead to the creation of the first rubber condom

in 1844. Strips of raw rubber were wrapped around penis-shaped molds, which were later

dipped in a chemical solution to cure the rubber. With a shelf life of a few months

and being very durable, men could actually reuse these particular condoms!

In 1912, a new and improved way to manufacture condoms emergedadding gasoline or benzene

to the rubber to liquefy it. The latex condom was officially invented in 1920, and the consumers

loved the stronger, thinner material with a shelf life of five years.

Inexpensive, easy to use, and effective at preventing the spread of certain diseases,

something the withdrawal method doesnt really help much with, condoms are now one

of the most popular forms of contraception. However, despite the availability of some

version of the male condom throughout much of history and the ease and free-ness of the

withdrawal method, people still chose to find other methods for preventing pregnancy, some

of which were not just bizarre, but downright dangerous.

Since women were historically viewed as playing a more significant role in getting pregnant,

the number of available options for female birth control was much greater... and displayed

a much higher level of inventiveness. For example, early topical and suppository contraceptives

have included olive oil, pomegranate pulp, ginger, and even tobacco juice, which women

would smear on and/or inside their vagina as an early spermicide.

According to the oldest recorded information regarding birth control, a document that is

nearly 4000 years old- the Egyptian Kahun Gynecological Papyrus, which also happens

to be the first known medical text- women used pessaries made out of crocodile dung

and honey as a form of contraception. In hindsight, it was pretty smart to combine animal feces

with an effective antibacterial substance like honey (and indeed, its also thought

certain Native American tribes used honey for this same contraceptive purpose… [Simon

pauses and acts like hes writing something down and mumbles slowly, Insert Honeypot joke

here] ;-)). Going back to the Egyptians, in addition to physically preventing sperm from

fertilizing an egg, the acidic properties of the dung may have served as an effective

spermicide. In India, elephant dung has been used in this same manner.

Another method the text describes on top of the "crocodile dung" was the use of acacia

gum, which is much less mentally repulsive to put in ones hoo-ha, and, indeed, does

work as a spermicideIt can even be found in some spermicide products today, unlike

crocodile dung. Fast forward a few thousand years and in 1832,

Dr. Charles Knowlton popularized the method of syringe douching as a method of contraception,

and throughout the U.S., women would use his douching mixtures comprised of vinegar, zinc

sulfite and liquid chloride to prevent pregnancy. It wasn't until after 1850 that hard rubber

syringes came into play. Before that, early syringes were made out of horn, bone or pewter.

Douching kits and solutions were sold during the greater part of the 1900s. At one time,

American women painfully turned to the popular household disinfectant Lysol as a method of

contraception. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the Lysol disinfectant douche was a

top seller in feminine hygiene products. Not only did the Lysol douche later prove ineffective

as a spermicidal, but its use also led to toxic effects, such as inflammation, irritation

and burning sensations of the vagina and cervix. Getting away from Lysol, the first commercially

produced birth control pill (called Enovid-10) made an appearance on the market in 1960.

Just before the FDA approved the use of synthetic progesterone and estrogen in pill form that

works to prevent ovulation in women, the market offered "female pills" with oftentimes unidentified

ingredients or questionable herbal concoctions used to induce or speed up menstrual flow

as a way to provoke a miscarriage. As for the first use of intrauterine devices,

this dates back to the Middle Ages when Arab Bedouins would insert pebbles into the uteruses

of their camels to prevent pregnancy during long, desert journeys. The pebbles caused

a mild infection in the uterus that affected the fertilization and implantation of eggs.

As for humans, it wasn't until the 1960s in the U.S. that the IUD was an acceptable form

of birth control for women. Over time, IUDs have been made out of suture materials, coiled

metal wire, stainless steel, plastic, rubber, copper wire, and silver filaments in all proving

extremely effective at their quasi-goal keeping abilities.

Going back a bit with substances, in the mid-19th century, preparations of loose herbs, such

as pennyroyal, rue, hellebore, mistletoe, foxglove, Queen Anne's lace, bloodroot, ergot

and different mint plants, were steeped in hot water (like a cup of tea) or dissolved

in alcohol before consumption. While herbs, such as tansy and pennyroyal, may have had

a reputation for possessing abortive properties, they also "worked" by poisoning the woman.

Going back much further with the liquid birth control concoctions, it was also an unfortunate

habit of early physicians to use chemical-laden drinks that blended lethal substances (like

arsenic, mercury and strychnine) with grains, fruits and oils. Early physicians would suggest

women drink the poisonous mixtures as a way to disrupt their reproductive systems, usually

in very controlled dosages so as to prevent pregnancy without killing the woman (often

through inducing a miscarriage if a fertilized egg is present.)

For instance, Soranus, a Greek gynecologist practicing during the 2nd century A.D., told

women to drink the water that blacksmiths used to cool metal as a birth control method.

In 900 B.C., Chinese birth control experts advised women to swallow sixteen tadpoles

fried in quicksilver (mercury) immediately after sexSuccessful results that came

from drinking toxic 'remedies' sometimes came with damage to the liver, kidneys and other

major organs. Some women would never again have children in the futurebecoming sterile

or worse, died... in both cases, we guess the methods were indeed super effective at

preventing pregnancy... Not every oral or liquid contraceptive method

was deadly, although perhaps the effectiveness is questionable. Acidic fruits and vegetables

often played a role in early birth control. To prevent pregnancy, Arabian women would

eat mashed pomegranate mixed with rock salt and alum. During the 1400s, drinking raw onion

juice was a trick of the Italians. In 1600, the French ate cabbage after intercourse

Not so sure about that ones effectivenessOn the other side, one of the most effective

(and safe) liquid remedies for birth control was most likely lemon juice as a topical remedy.

Specifically, to create a physical barrier in the vagina, women would insert soft wool

soaked in vinegar or lemon juice to prevent pregnancy. Positioning half a lemon in the

vagina was also not uncommon, and serves as an example of an early form of the cervical

cap with a form of spermicide naturally baked in.

Another seemingly very effective birth control method used by the Ancient Greeks was the

Silphium plant, which is now unfortunately extinct, and became so because of its extreme

popularity for medicinal purposes, mainly for birth controlWhy it became extinct

when it was "more valuable than silver" was because of failure after failure to try to

grow it away from its natural habitat of a small stretch of land in what is now Libya.

Because of the small area it could be grown successfully and the extreme demand, by the

2nd century BC, the plant went the way of the dodo. Ironically losing its evolutionary

reproductive battle because of its ability to stop reproduction in another living thing.

In the end, we've come a long way from the near 4000 year old method of crocodile dung

and honey and even the more modern method of Lysol douching, but it's surprising to

see that so many ancient methods for birth control seem to have been remarkably effective

and some, such as the basic withdrawal method and Queen Anne's Lace, are still chugging

along today as effective means of birth controlSo if we take anything from this, it's that

apparently from the beginning of humans humaning, weve been trying to "have our cake and

eat it too" in regards to sex

and babies.

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