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June 25, 2011

The Flawed and the Intuitive: Seven Ancient Methods of Birth Control

Prior to the development of modern contraceptives, how did women of the past prevent pregnancy? As you read further, you’ll see that women have been taking control of their bodies from the earliest of times by using alternate methods of birth control. As knowledge about the reproductive system was often limited, and the cause of pregnancy was unknown in some civilizations, the effectiveness and safety of some methods are definitely imperfect.

    1. Sea Sponges
      The use of physical barriers to block sperm was mainly spread throughout the ancient world. In ancient Jewish communities, the use of sea sponges was a preferred means of contraception. Women would soak sea sponges with acidic substances, usually lemon juice, and insert the sponge vaginally before intercourse. The sponge would be fastened with string for easy removal.
    2. Breast Feeding
      Prolonged breast feeding was encouraged in the past to eliminate the chances of conception. The practice of lactating for contraception is now known as lactational amenorrhea method (LAM). When a woman is breast feeding, the return of her menstrual cycle is delayed. However she eventually will start to ovulate, and thus she is still at risk for pregnancy.
    3. Avoiding moonlight
      In ancient Greece, moonlight was believed to fertilize crops and impregnate women as well. Women were taught to block moonlight when they slept lest they conceive. As we know this method of birth control is highly ineffective since the moon does not influence ovulation nor does it radiate fertilizing power.

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  1. Coitus Interruptus
    More commonly known as the withdrawal method, the prehistoric use of coitus interruptus was recorded in the Book of Genesis. This method was more effective than others in the ancient times due to the male ejaculating outside of the vagina.
  2. Visiting the Local Cemetery
    It was popular for the ladies of the past to visit their female ancestors in hopes of avoiding pregnancy. The only way that this method could have been effective is if it scared women into practicing abstinence!
  3. Following the Advice of Soranus
    Soranus was a gynecologist in ancient Greece who came up with several unsuccessful methods of birth control. Soranus advised women to jump backwards seven times after intercourse, in hopes of extricating the sperm. He was the original creator of the Rhythm method (a method in which women have intercourse when they are not fertile), however the method was flawed due to his hypothesis that women ovulated during menstruation (rather than prior). Furthermore, Soranus also recommended women to squat and then to squeeze to eliminate the possibility of pregnancy. As the ladies soon found out, these methods were highly ineffective.
  4. Abstinence
    Ultimately the most effective form birth control in history, this method has been effective in the past and also in modern times. In some communities, abstinence was practiced before and during certain religious days (i.e., Lent).

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