With male contraception on the way, spare a thought for the bizarre contraceptive history men will skip over
Men will miss out on thousands of years of dark, daft and downright dangerous contraceptive history, including coca-cola douches, crocodile poop and beaver testicle tea.
The Egyptians thought up some pretty eye-watering contraceptives as far back as 1850BC. And you’ll won’t believe what the 20th century found to do with Coca Cola.
contraceptive history : Crocodile poop
In ancient Egypt, around 1500 BC, women would mix honey, sodium carbonate and crocodile dung into a pessary — a thick, almost solid paste — and insert it into their vaginas before sex.
A 4000 year old document, the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus, contains recipes for contraceptive pessaries made out of crocodile dung and honey.
This winning combination kept popping up for 3000 years. In India and Africa the elephant replace the crocodile and the prescription reappears in the Islamic world right up to the 11th century A.D.
Modern speculation is that the poop may have had actual birth control properties , either by blocking the seminal fluid in the cervix or changing the PH level.
Interestingly, the crocodile may have represented the Egyptian abortion god. The god Seth tried to injure Isis during her pregnancy. While uterine amulets were used both for assisting and preventing conception and birth, they featured Seth more often than Thoueris, the goddess who protected pregnancy and childbirth.
Of course, it may be that after application of crocodile poo, neither party felt like making love.
contraceptive history : Squat ‘n Sneeze
Image credit : MICHAEL BLANN/GETTY IMAGES
In the year 200, the Greek gynecologist Soranus recommended that women hold their breath during sex, followed by sneezing afterward to prevent sperm from entering the womb. From his “Gynacology” :
And during the sexual act, at the critical moment of coitus when the man is about to discharge the seed, the woman must hold her breath and draw herself away a little, so that the seed may not be hurled too deep into the cavity of the uterus. And getting up immediately and squatting down, she should induce sneezing and carefully wipe the vagina all round; she might even drink something cold.
My personal favorite is drinking the water that blacksmiths used to cool metal as a birth control method. Weirdly, that one kind of worked, because blacksmith water is teeming with lead.
Unfortunate side effects : nausea, kidney failure, seizures, coma and death.
contraceptive history : Weasel Testicles
Image credit : Wikipedia Commons
During the Middle Ages in Europe, magicians advised women to wear weasel testicles on their thighs or hang its amputated foot from around their necks.
Take this advice (or, better, don’t) from the 12th century Trotula :
“Take a male weasel and let its testicles be removed and let it be released alive. Let the woman carry these testicles with her in her bosom and tie them in goose skin or in another skin, and she will not conceive.”
Other amulets of the time were wreaths of herbs, desiccated cat livers or shards of bones from cats (but only the pure black ones),flax lint tied in a cloth and soaked in menstrual blood, or the anus of a hare.
If all else failed, a woman could avoid pregnancy by walking three times around the spot where a pregnant wolf had peed.
contraceptive history : Lead and Mercury
Image Credit : Rebecca Saikia-Wilson Moment Getty Images
In 900 B.C., Chinese birth control experts advised women to swallow sixteen tadpoles fried in quicksilver (mercury) immediately after sex.
This technique relies on much of the same ill-advised science as the blacksmith water, effectively acting as a poison.
Course, hard to get pregnant when you’re dead of mercury poisoning.
contraceptive history : Jump
Image Credit : Wikipedia Commons
In 10th-century Persia, women were advised to jump backward seven or nine times after intercourse to dislodge any sperm, as those were believed to be magical numbers.
In a treatise attributed to Hippocrates , he describes in detail the case of a dancer “who had the habit of going with the men”; he recommends that she “jump up and down, touching her buttocks with her heels at each leap” to dislodge the sperm, and thus avoid risk.
Way to go, father of modern medecine!
contraceptive history : Casanova’s Lemon
Giacomo Casanova, the man famous purely for the number of women he bedded in the late 1700s, would shove half a lemon into his latest lover ahead of his penis.
A lemon was halved, squeezed, and the rind was placed over the uterine orifice like a cap.
The rind served as a cervical cap and the acidic juice as a potent spermicide, so it did actually kind of work.
Incidentally, Casanova reported an early type of condom that he called “English riding coats“.
These were probably made from linen, sheep’s intestine, or sometimes animal bladder soaked in various concoctions.
He described them as “little preventative bags…to save the fair sex from anxiety”.
contraceptive history : Tea
Image credit: Flickr user faster panda kill kill, altered by Neatorama
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 made into a tea or dissolved in alcohol.
While herbs, such as tansy and pennyroyal, may have possessed abortive properties, they also “worked” by poisoning the woman.
16th-century Native women in today’s New Brunswick, Canada brewed tea out of preserved beaver testicles.
Believe it or not, leaving it to beaver may have provided androgen to influence their hormonal balance and decrease fertility.
contraceptive history : Lysol
Lysol was the best-selling method of contraception during the Great Depression, even though it contained cresol and could cause severe inflammation, burning, and even death.
Throughout the 1920s, Lysol was advertised as a product that could “protect your married happiness” with a series of terrifying ads. In these ads, women are repulsing their husbands with unnamed odors caused by neglected feminine hygiene.
But these ads aren’t about frightening women into thinking their genitals smell badly. According to historian Andrea Tone, “feminine hygiene” was a euphemism. Birth control was illegal in the U.S. until 1965 (for married couples) and 1972 (for single people). These Lysol ads are actually for contraception.
Hundreds of people died from exposure to Lysol, including women who were using it to kill sperm.
It was also, to add insult to injury, useless as a contraceptive.
contraceptive history : Coca Cola
Image credit: EngenderHealth video
In the 1950s and 1960s, an urban legend emerged that women could abort their fertilized eggs by shaking up a bottle of Coca-Cola, inserting it in their vaginas, and letting it spray the carbonic acid all over the frightened sperm as they raced toward the woman’s egg. In the end, it only led to yeast infections.
As hard as this may be to believe, there was actually a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine as recently as 1985 claiming that this technique actually worked. In fact, the author reported that Diet Coke was superior to regular Coca-Cola for this purpose!
Apparently, all of them killed some sperm. with Diet Coca-Cola having the strongest spermicidal effect followed by Classic Coca-Cola, Caffeine-free Coca-Cola and New Coca-Cola.
Not surprisingly, subsequent research found that coke is NOT it when it comes to spermicides, and neither is Pepsi.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.