Analysis by Prof. Robert Jütte, chief historian of medicine at Stuttgart’s Robert Bosch Foundation, author of the book Contraception: A History.
Family planning, Egyptian style
In ancient Egypt, crocodile dung was used as a pessary. It sounds weird and revolting but now we know that it’s not as crazy as one might think as some of the ingredients change the pH value in the vagina to create a bad environment for the sperm.
Smooth condom, back in the day
The first undisputed description of the condom – done by a 16th-century Italian physician Gabriele Falloppio – mentioned it was made of cloth. This type did not feel very sensitive at all. In comparison, for a very smooth condom material, animal intestines or a fish’s air bladder were used.
‘Nonsense’ from ancient Rome
Believe it or not, people did wear amulets like they do talismans as a means of contraception. Worn around the neck, these amulets contained ingredients we would describe as complete nonsense for a contraceptive. One example from ancient Rome: take the seeds from a henbane plant, mix them with milk from a she-ass, add some myrtle and berries from black ivy, then wrapped in the skin of a hare, mule or stag.
Myths and ‘old lady recipes’
I once read in a British opinion poll that some women thought that by simply closing your eyes you can avoid conception. Other old lady ‘recipes’ include washing after intercourse. We know that this method doesn’t really work. Bidets are now for personal hygiene but they were used for this ‘contraceptive.’ It’s almost forgotten today that it started like this.
What we learned from the past
‘Coitus interruptus,’ the withdrawal method – at more than 10,000 years old, it’s the oldest contraceptive and remains important. It still works – if you are careful, that is. It’s very easy to use, you don’t need a lot of instructions. It’s ready, so to speak, in the heat of the affair.”