10 Fascinating Facts About the History of Birth Control

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Trivial Diversions

10 Fascinating Facts About the History of Birth Control

10 Fascinating Facts About the History of Birth Control

Pregnancy and syphilis: Two of mankind’s mortal enemies. For millennia, we’ve been looking for methods to turn them away at the door. Think protected sex is anywhere close to a new thing? Think again.

1) Smell ya later. Studies suggest that being on the pill accepts what smell women find attractive—specifically, than when you’re on the pill you tend to prefer the scent of people with the same major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes as you, and when you’re off the pill you prefer those with different MHC genes.

pig intestine condom

2) Ye Olde Condom. The world’s oldest condom (above) is dated to 1640 and was found in Lund, Sweden. It’s made of pig intestine. Don’t use it unless you read Latin, though, because that’s the language the instruction manual was written in. Don’t forget to wash it in a bath of warm milk to prevent disease? Seriously.

3) Yowch. Condoms were first widely used (at least to our knowledge) around 3,000 BC. In their long, looooong history, they have been made out of animal bladders and intestines, linen, tortoise shell, animal horns, oiled paper, and leather. 

4) Ancient people loved to party. Ancient women in Greece and Egypt used a plant called silphium as a method of birth control, taking a concoction made with it monthly to, in the words of Pliny the Elder, “promise the menstrual discharge.” Whether it was actually effective, we don’t know (though modern studies of related plants show that they’re quite good birth control for rats), because the classical world loved silphium so damn much that it was extinct by the end of the first century AD.

grottes des combalerres

5) ART. A cave painting in France’s Grottes des Comberelles, dated to between 10,000 and 13,000 BCE, is believed to show the first artistic representation of the condom.

6) BRB, changing my band name to “Earl of Condum.” Though the English by no means invented the condom, a popular legend gives them credit for it. The man ostensibly responsible is Dr. Condum (alternatively the Earl of Condum), personal surgeon of King Charles II. Charles, with benevolence in his heart, asked Condum to develop a way for his soldiers to get jiggy with it without getting the clap, since if his soldiers started dropping like flies it might affect his ability to regain the throne from Oliver Cromwell. There are no legitimate historical records of Dr. Condum, though some versions of the legend say he changed his name due to embarrassment over his legacy.


7) Horndog extraordinaire. 18th-century Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova has earned his place in history not just for his infamously amorous ways, but also for being the world’s first and perhaps most vocal condom enthusiast. He sung their praises in his Histoire de ma vie (Story of My Life), where he wrote that he would entertain his ladyfriends by blowing them up like balloons so he could test for holes.

8) Eeeevery sperm is saaaaacreeddddd. Dr. John Rock, one of the key figures in inventing the birth control pill, was a devout Roman Catholic and social conservative who believed in the usefulness and moral righteousness of married women using the pill as a means of combating poverty and medical problems that result from pregnancy. He was a lifelong crusader for Roman Catholic acceptance of the pill.

9) No. No. Nonononono. Early Egyptian documents dating from 1550 BC and 1850 BCE describe the use of honey, acacia leaves, and lint, inserted into the vagina, as a method of birth control.


10) ART, part 2. In the Middle Ages and beyond, condoms were reusable and were often hung out to dry between.. er… encounters. One example can be seen in Self-Portrait by Johan Zoffany, dated 1779. Upper right, under the green bottle. Get a good look.

Related topics birth control, condoms, History
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