Popular Culture

12 of the Weirdest (and Outdated) Birth Control Methods


There are many effective methods of birth control these days — so many, in fact, that we can’t watch TV without seeing ads for two different types in any given hour. Contraceptives have come a long way, but what did the women of yesteryear do when they needed (or wanted) to avoid pregnancy? The connection between sex and pregnancy wasn’t always made by developing civilizations, and some cultures depended on rituals, or even amulets. Even when the connection was made, things didn’t get much better for women. From using crocodile poop “pessaries” to squatting and sneezing, history’s come up with some pretty odd birth control methods — but these are the 12 weirdest.


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The Middle Ages saw everything from the breakdown of Roman society to the Crusades, along with advances in Medieval technology, but birth control methods remained crude. In Europe, amulets were prescribed to women as contraception. Supposedly, a woman could wear a bone from the right side of a black cat around her neck and she wouldn’t conceive. Out of black cats? It was also common to use wreaths made of hare anuses, mule earwax, or even dried weasel testicles.

Crocodile Poop

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The use of pessaries — which were vaginal suppositories — was quite common in ancient Egypt. They were usually made from various acidic substances, lubricated with honey. Their favorite pessary was a paste created from crocodile dung (and honey, as though that makes it any better), along with other various plants, melted into the vagina. Unbeknownst to the Egyptians of the era, the alkaline environment created by the dung was ideal for sperm survival. We have a feeling the only reason this worked was because of, well, the smell.

The Pouch

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Another popular accessory with the women of yesteryear, this pouch deserves a section of its own. The women of Ancient Rome fancied wearing a leather pouch, containing a cat’s liver, on their left foot during sex to prevent conception. What significance the cat liver had, we don’t know — neither do we know how hanging any kind of pouch from a limb would prevent pregnancy. Again, we can only imagine the stench-factor having something to do with turning men away.

The Original Rhythm Method

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Today, some women prefer to use the Rhythm Method of birth control simply by timing their fertile cycle, and planning intercourse around it. As early as the second century, Greek gynecologist Soranus knew that women were fertile during ovulation and promoted the Rhythm Method. He was correct, so what’s the problem? Soranus’ Rhythm Method is not what is in use today — he assumed that ovulation occurred during menstruation, rather than prior to it. We assume many women were a bit more than upset with him.

Squat and Sneeze

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Soranus ushered in a new era for gynecology and obstetrics, but he got a few things wrong. Champion of the failure that was the original Rhythm Method, he also encouraged women to squat and sneeze after intercourse to avoid conception. We’re guessing that was supposed to shake loose and confuse the sperm? He also recommended a couple other, less scientific, way to prevent conception: Dislodging the sperm by jumping backwards seven times after intercourse, or telling women to hold their breath and draw the body back during sex so the sperm could not penetrate the mouth of the uterus. At least he was a creative thinker.

Spitting and Other Rituals

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As an ancient Roman woman, if you decided against the cat-liver-in-a-pouch method of birth control, you had yet another option! These women were convinced that spitting into a frog’s mouth three times would prevent pregnancy. Rituals weren’t only popular amongst the Romans though — European women would turn the wheel of a grain mill backwards — four times at midnight. Some cultures believed that the moon was not only responsible for fertilizing crops, but that women should sleep out of the moonlight, so as not to be impregnated by moonbeams.

Tansy and Pennyroyal

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If preventative measures weren’t effective, it was common for women to take abortifacients, usually in the form of herbs, to terminate an undesired pregnancy. Throughout the ages, various herbs were used, but tansy and pennyroyal were among the most popular. How do they work? By poisoning the woman. The active chemicals in these herbs that were used to induce a miscarriage are high enough to perilously damage the liver, kidneys and other organs as well. Not really win-win, is it?

Visiting the Dead

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Rituals involving birth control remained popular throughout the ages, spanning many cultures despite their ineffectiveness. Another popular ritual was walking over the graves of dead female ancestors to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps this worked only in discouraging intercourse for a short while, specifically on the burial grounds. That just doesn’t seem inviting.

Drink Hot Mercury

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If an abortifacient was necessary, there were options other than herbs — the ingestion of certain poisons could disrupt the reproductive system. Though effectiveness varied, those that were most effective also had major side effects. In ancient China, women would drink hot mercury. Now, if you don’t know already, mercury can cause paralysis, tremors, mental disturbances, and death. So in a way, it works — if you’re dead from mercury poisoning, you don’t have to worry about being pregnant anymore.

The Wood Block

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Today we have the Today Sponge — a sponge barrier inserted into the vagina to block sperm from entering the cervix. Women have been using similar methods for ages though, improvising with natural sponges, grasses, or other materials. One day, a man decided to make a new version — out of wooden blocks, carved into a shape similar to a doorknob with six sides. It was manufactured in the 1920s, but was quickly condemned by the 1930s as an instrument of torture — good thing.

Soda Douche

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We can see why this rumor took hold in the 1950s — it’s sort of logical. Shake up some soda and you have a pretty powerful liquid to dislodge and kill some sperm! The reality? Due to the nature of the fluids and the structure of the female reproductive tract, this method would most likely spread semen further towards the uterus; sperm are just too fast and strong. As if that’s not disappointing enough, the sugary mess would probably attract a yeast infection.

Beaver Testicle Tea

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Oral contraceptives have been around for over 4,000 years, in all kinds of forms. Women in India would imbibe carrot seeds, and ancient Roman women would drink the juice of the silphium plant once per month — this was actually a popular and effective form of oral contraceptive, too bad the plant is now extinct (knowing history’s Romans as we do, is that at all surprising?). Those don’t sound too bad, but an aboriginal group in Eastern Canada favored drinking a tea brewed with beaver testicles. We can’t imagine the taste, and on top of that; can you believe that some Canadian women still do this today? Of course, they combine the dried beaver testicles with alcohol these days.


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