coke bottleAnna Huzar

World Contraception Day: 10 of history’s most horrible contraceptives

An image of Catriona White
Catriona White

Do you ever sigh at the daily chore of taking your pill, or roll your eyes at the always awkward condom moment?

Well friends, you better suck it up (pun not intended) because these two forms of contraceptives are possibly among the greatest public health inventions of the last two centuries.

Which is why every year, on 26 September, these brilliant creations are honoured with World Contraception Day - an initiative started by a collective of different organisations around the world, to encourage awareness of contraceptive methods and as the World Health Organization says "enable young people to make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health".

So let's just think about how great contraception actually is.

Condoms, for example, have played a huge role in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections, while the invention of the pill gave women real reproductive control for the first time. 

Obviously these contraceptives are not without their problems - we're sure we don't need to tell you about the pill's side effects - but it would be hard to deny that life is much better with contraceptives than without.

Which is why we’re going to take you on a whistle-stop tour through the darkest, daftest and most downright dangerous contraception methods that history cooked up, before we had the relative luxury of sticking a condom on. After reading these, you may feel a bit better about taking the pill - after all, it's better than drinking lead or sticking an animal's testicles to your leg.

Get ready to have your mind blown…

1. Squatting and sneezing

You know… the old ‘squat and sneeze’ move? No? Well that’s probably for the best. But the ancient Greeks were all but convinced that this move was a foolproof anti-baby technique. The ‘science’ behind the ‘technique’ assumed that jumping up and squatting down straight after sexy time would stop the sperm from entering a lady's uterus. With a bit of a sneeze to really consolidate things. Bish bash bosh, no baby.*

*We cannot be held responsible for any potential baby that might actually still arise from using said technique, considering the entire lack of any accepted science or you know, general common sense.

2. Weasel’s Testicles

Back in ye good olde times, when superstition replaced science (or more specifically, the European dark ages), someone, probably a highly successful professional wizard, cooked up this belter.

They managed to convince pretty much everyone that the use of weasel balls strapped to a lady’s leg would ward off any kind of unwanted pregnancy. Because why rely on practical gynaecology when you’ve got ~magic~ on your side, eh? Though in fairness, nothing’s going to kill the mood like a severed pair of animal balls dangling from your partner’s leg.

weaselAnna Huzar

3. Blacksmith water

Back to those crazy kids, the Ancient Greeks and their latest contraceptive concoction: slurping down the toxic sludge of the blacksmith’s leftovers. This was basically the water used by a blacksmith to cool his tools in.

And actually, it kind of worked, because NEWSFLASH, blacksmith water is teeming with lead. So consider the contraception box ticked, alongside the other likely side effects: nausea, kidney failure, seizures, coma and death. No bigs.

Considering this, it’s amazing that a version of this technique was still being used as recently as the First World War, when women were volunteering to work in factories with lead, just so it would keep them sterile.

4. Crocodile dung

Uhh. Obviously. Hats off to the Ancient Egyptians this time for their practical thinking (right up there with pulling brains out of noses, pre-mummification).

They clocked that no one was going to get pregnant if you could create some sort of barrier down there. A lightbulb moment for humanity, that was almost immediately extinguished when that guy stuck his hand up and suggested creating the barrier in question with honey and crocodile poo. Seriously, who invited that guy?

So, once the Egyptians were finished with a hard day's hieroglyphic-ing, or walking around like an Egyptian, or whatever it was Egyptians did back then, they’d get on with shoving crocodile poo up there. In fairness, this is actually the loose concept of the diaphragm, which is still a widely used contraceptive today.

But still… it’s a no from us.

5. Testicle Tea

Hurrah, testicles again!

This time, it’s the 16th century Canadians at it. They were less about the leg-wear, and more about the booze. They ground up beaver balls into a fine powder and added it into a potent moonshine mix. Mmm.

This was presumably as effective as the dangling weasel balls, but with the added bonus that you got totally rat-arsed (beaver-arsed?) drunk. So you know, silver linings and all.

testical teaAnna Huzar

6. Animal Intestines

Or, in other words, the original condom. Because believe it or not, wrapping your willy in something isn’t actually an original concept.

But before the pina colada-flavoured variety were available (each to their own), animal intestines had to suffice. One of the oldest ever recorded condoms is made from pig intestine, and even comes with a user manual (handy) that suggests soaking it in warm milk before use.

Just don’t drink the wrong glass with your cookies before bed time.

7. Casanova’s lemon

Ok, strictly speaking it’s not his lemon, but the famous Lothario was allegedly a big fan of this one.

This method involves half a lemon, scooped of its pulp and inserted into the vagina. The rind served as a cervical cap and the acidic juice as a potent spermicide, so it did actually kind of work. And kept you freshly-cleaned-bathroom-fresh all day long.

You know what they say – when life hands you lemons… put them up your vagina.

8. Mercury

Nothing says ‘sexy’ like a couple of post-coital shots of toxic mercury juice.

Around 900 BC, Chinese birth control experts advised women to swallow 16 tadpoles fried in quicksilver (mercury) immediately after sex. This technique relies on much of the same ill-advised science as the blacksmith water, effectively acting as a poison.

So yes, women didn’t give birth… and many became permanently sterile. Other highlights included damage to the liver, kidneys and other major organs, and in the worst circumstances, death.

Suddenly the patter of tiny feet doesn’t sound quite so bad.

9. Opium

The Sherlock Holmes special.

Though, before Mr Holmes was even conceived, the ancient Sumatrans had figured out that the opium poppy was much more than just a flower. Women would use the pod of the plant like a diaphragm during intercourse… or alternatively insert the flowers in their vaginas, which were believed to have the same effect as smoking.

The effectiveness of this one is largely unknown… but at the very least, they probably had fun giving it a whirl.

I see what you’re thinking there. You, yes you, right there. However much this sounds like a novel way to spice up a Friday night - it isn’t, and you shouldn’t.

coke bottleAnna Huzar

10. The Coca Cola ‘douche’

After rattling through this dubious history, you’re probably feeling pretty smug about sitting there on your comfy chair in the future. But this one, believe it or not, dates back a mere 60-odd years ago.

Coca Cola is a lot of things – a delightful vodka mixer, a refreshing summer’s day beverage, an effective way to dissolve a spare tooth… but I bet you never knew it was once used as a contraceptive.

After a sesh in the sack, women would pour the sweet fizzy stuff… err… into themselves. The doctor’s theory was that the sugar would explode sperm cells, and the carbonation of the drink would force the liquid into the vagina.

That’s all the science the 1950s needed, and coke genuinely became a popular after-sex douche.

Aside from the bizarre physical logistics that the ‘pouring’ would surely involve, just imagine the sticky brown mess that would result. And surely, eventually, the inevitable baby.

So there you go, a selection of history’s most bonkers contraception methods. For goodness sakes, please don’t try any of these at home. They’re consigned to the dark archives of history for a reason.

Originally published 26 September 2016.