Guest contributor Susan Edwards is the COO of Ellora’s Cave, the world’s first and foremost publisher of erotic romance, which combines the conventions of traditional romance novels with explicitly described sex scenes. For more information and a list of current titles, click here.
It’s a pretty safe bet that as soon as people figured out how babies are made, some of them started inventing ways to prevent pregnancy, and others started passing laws to foil them. The furious struggle over who controls conception and how continues to this day in bedrooms and legislatures around the world.
Still, things have improved since the early days of contraception. The following ten surprising facts show how far we have come.
• The earliest known birth control methods date back more than 3,000 years to India and Egypt: Placing elephant or crocodile dung in the vagina before intercourse may well have prevented pregnancy by preventing intercourse.
• Death is another sure-fire way to prevent pregnancy: Centuries ago, Chinese women drank lead and mercury and Greek women drank “blacksmith water” with traces of lead to avoid becoming pregnant. The use of lead as a form of birth control lasted through World War I, when women volunteered to work in factories with lead to decrease their chances of getting pregnant.
• Magical amulets were a popular means of warding off pregnancy in Medieval Europe. The pouches contained everything from herbs to weasel testicles, desiccated livers of black cats, and hare anuses. During that same era, some woman also tried to avoid conception by walking three times around a spot of pregnant wolf urine.
• Blocking the entrance to the womb was an early contraceptive technique. One of the first cervical caps was made from opium, molded over the cervix. The great womanizer Casanova was said to have inserted the rind of half a lemon into his lovers as a diaphragm.
• In the 16th century, Spanish Emperor Charles V established the death penalty for people who used contraceptives, masturbated, or engaged in homosexuality.
• Covering the penis to prevent the introduction of sperm into vagina was an obvious contraceptive technique, but it had one huge drawback for women: It required the cooperation of the man involved. The condom has been used in Europe since the 1600s. In the early 18th century the English called condoms French letters, while the French called them English capes.
• Some Canadian women drank a delicious brew of dried of beaver testicles in alcohol to prevent conception. Cheers!
• Abstinence remains the only birth control of choice for some people. Sylvester Graham, an early 19th century Presbyterian minister and advocate of chastity, invented graham crackers as part of a diet designed to decrease sexual desire.
• The state of Connecticut banned all forms of birth control until 1965, when the Supreme Court overturned the law, saying it violated the right to marital privacy.
• In 1960, 30 states still prohibited or restricted the sale and advertisement of contraceptives.
The good news, ladies: research into male contraceptives is on the rise. Scientists are considering several options, including plugs inserted into the vas deferens that block the flow of sperm or render sperm incapable of fertilization via electric current. They’ve also looked into underpants that suppress sperm production by heating the scrotum and, perhaps more realistically, the male “Pill.”
(The pictured item can be purchased here. AVN makes no guarantees as to its efficacy.)