female contraception

The pill is one of the most popular forms of contraption in the world. When taken correctly, it is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.[1]

However, the pill hasn’t always been an option. For centuries, women have relied on other, often unusual methods of avoiding pregnancy. We’re going to take a look at some of the oddest forms of early contraception to show just how much the pill has changed things.

Botanical beverages

For thousands of years, concoctions have been brewed with the promise of preventing or eradicating a pregnancy. Ancient texts reveal numerous herbal recipes, featuring plants such as hawthorn, willow and ivy. These were alleged to show sterilising properties when drunk. Substances were also commonly applied to the genitals before and after sex – as a way to form of kind of chemical barrier – and things like honey, acacia and even crocodile dung were used to create solid plugs or suppositories.[2]

Douching

During the Roman era, douching was one of the more common forms of post-coital pregnancy prevention. In fact, it was often completed both before and after sexual activity. Douching is the act of rinsing the vagina with fluids, most commonly sea water, lemon juice or even vinegar. The idea was that, by rinsing the vagina, women would flush out any sperm and hopefully kill any sperm cells that remained.[3]

Instances of women using this technique to prevent can be found well into the 20th century.

Early caps and condoms

Male condoms have been present far longer than female ones. Early examples of male condoms were made from linen or – slightly later – animal intestines. In 1883, Dutch doctor Aletta Jacobs created the first vulcanised rubber cap. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that rubber female condoms were first made available, and since 2003 the silicone FemCap has been the only cervical cap available in the UK.[4]

Contraceptive sponges

For centuries, items such as leaves, lemons and sponges were used as vaginal barriers during intercourse. Sponges have continued to be used up until even the present day, though not in the UK. The Today Sponge — a plastic sponge which covers the cervix and contains spermicides to prevent pregnancy — was available in the UK between 1985 and 1995.[5]

Sponges were thought to be able to ‘soak up’ sperm and prevent pregnancy as a result. However, effectiveness rates can be as low as 76%, meaning as many as a quarter of women still get pregnant after using the sponge.[6]

Early contraceptive medicines

Oral contraceptives date back more than 2,000 years. Things like willow shoots, male deer horn scrapings and even bees were once considered to have contraceptive qualities if consumed. Even in the years just before the pill, other forms of oral contraception were considered. In 1945, Syntex SA was established to produce steroids from diosgenin – a plant steroid in Mexican yams.[7]

How did the pill change things?

Introduced to the world in the 1960s, the contraceptive pill is considered by many to be a catalyst for the age of free love, sexual liberation and women’s rights which is associated with the decade.

Within two years of the pill’s release, it was being used by 1.2 million women in the US alone.[8] Nowadays, the contraceptive pill comes in 32 different forms and is used by around 100 million women, offering easy access to safe contraceptive measures. It is the popular prescribed contraceptive in the UK overall.[9]

Safe and effective female contraceptive medication is available right here at Express Pharmacy. Get in touch today by calling 0208 123 07 03 or by using our discreet Live Chat service.

[1] NHS UK. Combined Pill. 2017

[2] McLaren, A. A History of Contraception: From Antiquity to the Present Day. Oxford: B. Blackwell. 1990

[3] Riddle, JM. Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1992.

[4] FPA. Contraception: Past, Present and Future Factsheet. 2010

[5] FPA. Contraception: Past, Present and Future Factsheet. 2010

[6] Planned Parenthood. How effective is the sponge? 2019

[7] Dickens, E., Immaculate Contraception: The extraordinary story of birth control from the first fumblings to the present day. London: Robson. 2000.

[8] Bridge, S. A history of the pill. The Guardian. 2007

[9] Davis, N., McIntyre, N. Revealed: pill still most popular prescribed contraceptive in England. The Guardian. 2019