The Evolution of Birth Control
Rarely is there a subject that is considered as divisive as contraception. While we tend to think of birth control as a fairly modern development, it is an idea that has been around for thousands upon thousands of years and has been documented through both written word and various forms of art. The methods have ranged from spiritual and ritualistic to practical and scientific. Because of the length of a woman’s fertile years (about 40 years) the ability to control one’s ability to have children has affected millions of men and women and therefore is an issue that transcends time and place. The methods have ranged from spiritual and ritualistic to practical and scientific.
The Ancient Egyptians are the first known to use a contraceptive known as a pessary. The pessary is a concoction made of crocodile dung, sodium carbonate, and honey all missed together, fermented, and inserted into the vagina as a spermicide and blockade to sperm. Other methods included the insertion of the other foods such as sour milk, acacia gum, dates, and the complete removal of the ovaries all together. The Ancient Greeks took a similar approach to birth control but instead of food they used oils such as olive oil, lead ointment, frankincense oil, cedar oil, and an ancient plant called silphium (a large cousin to the fennel plant which, because of such high demand, was extinct by the fourth century A.D.). While barriers such as condoms were documented as far back as about 3000 B.C. but were used as a protection against disease rather than the prevention of pregnancy. In the fourth century B.C., Aristotle actually wrote about early condoms and another method of postcoital contraception where the woman squatted and exerted pressure on her lower abdomen in order to push the semen out of her vagina.
Moving on to the Middle Ages, attempts to control sexual activity turned to enforcing abstinence with something called a chastity belt. These devices, which...
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