History of Contraception: Interesting Figures

Sense old times people have been trying to prevent conception in various ways, not always successful and sometimes causing significant harm to health of woman or man. History of contraception has its roots in antiquity.

Interrupted Sexual Intercourse

Clearly, interrupted sexual intercourse (Lat. coitus interruptus) has become the first method of contraception. Actually it was practiced by biblical Onan, forced by his father to copulate with his brother’s wife. All his sin was in ejaculation of his seed on the ground, rather than in woman’s bosom, so, widespread term «onanism» is actually used incorrectly.


The most ancient specialized contraceptives include infusions and brews. In particular, in Sanskrit and ancient Chinese treatises there mentioned infusions and brews of different herbs, which deprive women of child-bearing ability. Mentions about means of pregnancy prevention and can be found in many works of ancient authors. For example, Roman matrons for protection from unwanted pregnancy were recommended to use infusion of willow and poplar trees bark growing in Proserpine temple grove.

Barrier Methods of Contraception

Ovid and Lucretius mentioned covers (condoms), put on penis during sexual intercourse. The material, they were made of, was the most diverse – fabric with special impregnation, fish bubbles, parchment. The best, but more expensive condoms were made of animal blind gut. Ancient Arabs practiced a variety of sponges soaked with balsam that were introduced deep into vagina.


Use of contraceptives has met sharp opposition from religion ministers. Ancient Jews banned contraception at all, an exception was made for women younger than 12 years and lactating mothers. In medieval Europe, use of contraceptives was also sharply limited by Christian Church. But the Church, after America discovery, had to admit a compelling argument in favor of condoms – it was syphilis.

The first European doctor, who openly suggested to use special bags, put on over penis as method of protection from syphilis infection, was Italian anatomist Fallopio (1564), and in XVII century English physician Condom offered such bags used to protect against unwanted pregnancy.

Indian Method

Very original method used by Hindus, displacing uterus anterior or, more often, posterior by massaging or pressuring on anterior abdominal wall. The method was quite popular among Dutch East Indies, and many white women resorted to help of such professionals. But after America discovery there appeared a compelling argument in favor of condoms – syphilis.

Prolonged Breastfeeding

In some tribes, the primary means of preventing subsequent pregnancies was prolonged breast-feeding (for several years). Such a procedure caused woman’s body consumption, causing excessive uterus reduction and subsequent infertility.

Contraceptives have become the most widely used during French Revolution era. A prominent girondist Condorcet (1795) called for births restriction and stated that «people should finally understand that with respect to future generations their responsibility not only to give them life, but also happiness». During the same years (1798) in England Malthus appeared with his views on sexual abstinence, and as a result in 1813 in England there was released a book by an unknown author on unwanted pregnancies prevention. Another book (by Dr. Waters) was published in 1823.

A very important role in contraception history was played by sperm cell discovery. In particular, Swiss zoologist Kölliker (1841) proved that they are germ cells, not parasites, as it previously was thought, and, by acting on sperm with various chemicals, spermicidal effect was achieved. And from that moment all contraceptives were divided into mechanical and chemical.

Intrauterine Contraception

Intrauterine contraception was already used in ancient times (although there are no documentary evidence to prove it), when during long-lasting journeys through desert people put special «vaginal» stones into camels uterus to prevent very undesirable in such situation pregnancy.

Much later, in XIX century, there were pessaries, covering cervical canal and thus preventing sperm penetration into it.

In 1902 German scientist Hollweg suggested pessaries for intrauterine use. Unfortunately, infection rate was very high, and since application of intrauterine devices problem of infection prevention came to the first place. German gynecologist Richter (in 1909 he proposed to put a ring, made of two twisted silk threads, into uterine cavity) was also unable to solve it. In 1929 German scientist Gräfenberg published the first successful experience of practical application of special ring (modified Richter ring), placed in uterine cavity (made of silver, gold, steel) in order to prevent pregnancy. Subsequently, the ring was named after him. He was the first who invented, applied and described indications and contraindications for use of intrauterine devices. Unfortunately, German national-socialist party strongly opposed contraception in any form, so Berlin Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has banned this method and even Gräfenberg himself abandoned it in 1941. Gräfenberg was forced to emigrate from Germany. Because of World War II further researches in the field of intrauterine contraception have been suspended.

However, during first two decades after the war, birth rate has increased dramatically, which was for many countries a problem of nationwide scale. Independently from each other in 1952 Ishihama in Japan and Oppenheimer in Israel have published data about successful use of intrauterine rings. Since that time, they began to be used widely. Japanese gynecologists first used for this purpose plastics, which had no harmful effect on woman’s body.

Hormonal Contraception

Hormonal contraception in historical aspect is relatively «young» because its appearance was possible only after many landmark discoveries in fields of medicine and organic chemistry.

birth control pillsIn 1921, Professor Haberlandt (Austria) experimentally proved possibility of temporary ovulation inhibition by introduction extract from ovaries. In 1931 he proposed using female sex hormones as a contraceptive. Early professor’s death at the age of 47 prevented him to obtain practical results, although the drug was almost ready for use. His colleague Fellner mysteriously disappeared after joining Austria to Hitlerite Germany.

After Haberlandt’s landmark discovery there appeared new difficulties horizons because to obtain even small amounts of hormones it was necessary to process thousands of liters of urine or tons of ovaries. And only in 1942 Russell E. Marker (USA) first synthesized female hormone progesterone. But in the US, despite strong Marker’s recommendations, the discovery has not been patented, and without patent no pharmaceutical company would produce the drug. Therefore, Marker had to go to Mexico, where with the help of lawyer Emeric Somlo, therapist Frederick Lehmann, and four semi-literate women several kilograms of progesterone were synthesized. In 1944 there was founded pharmaceutical company «Syntex», bringing solid income. But Marker’s discovery was not patented until the 80s.

In 1952 George Pincus suggested using progesterone for protection from unwanted pregnancy, which was first performed in 1954. And the first birth control pills contained very high, by modern standards, dose of hormones (read more) – that time a woman at one time received an amount that a modern woman takes during about a year. In 1956, the first combined pill was applied, and in 1960 they were allowed to be used universally. And era of birth control pills began.

Interesting Facts

Female Concentration

Out of 100 women of reproductive age, 36 do not use any contraceptives: 4 – because they are sterile, 7 – were sterilized, 5 – due to pregnancy, 13 – because of partner absence, 7 – for other various reasons. And 64 women are practicing contraception.

Methods of contraception:

  • Spermicides – vaginal pills, contraceptive creams or suppositories introduced into vagina before sexual intercourse. They act for four hours. Spermicides include contraceptive suppositories impregnated with solution that kills sperm cells. Suppository, placed into vagina before sexual intercourse, provides protection against pregnancy for 24 hours. Birth Control Online carried out the following calculation: if a woman from 20 to 50 years old would use only this means of contraception, used suppositories would occupy an area of 5 square meters, which corresponds to the size of garage door.
  • Diaphragms and caps are obstacles in diameter from 5,5 to 9,5 cm, close fitting to cervix and preventing sperm from penetrating the body.
  • Temperature measuring: a woman every morning measures her temperature to see if ovulation has occurred and determine time when she cannot get pregnant. If from 20 to 50 years old she uses only this method of contraception, thermometer for this purpose will be used 10 800 times.
  • Knaus–Ogino method (physiological method of contraception) used by 2% of women. It was suggested by Japanese gynecologist Ogino and lies in abstinence from sexual intercourse from 11th to 18th day of menstruation cycle, i. e. monthly reduction in number of days with sexual intercourses by 8, and by 96 per year.
  • IUDs are used by 17% of women. Coils are made of plastic with copper coating and inhibit sperm activity. Such coils are introduced into uterus for two or three years. Proponents of this contraceptive method during their sexual activity (up to 50 years old) have to put coils only 10 times, and total weight of these coils is negligible – 50 g, but it is reliable protection against «phallic attacks».
  • Hormonal pills are used by 32% of women. They take them every day at one and the same time for three weeks, followed by a week break. Then three-week reception period is repeated, etc. Woman, always using only chemical contraceptives, during her life will take 8 820 pills. If arrange them in a row, a line in 25 meters will be formed.

Male Contraception

  • Condom are used by 4% of men. In the market there are 39 recognized brands of condoms of the same size, that comply with European standards and tightly cover penis, which average size is 16×3,5 cm. A man who has penis longer can use «king-size» condoms for 20 cm long penis.sexual intercourseThere is also a model of small size condoms («petite-thai»), but only in countries of Southeast Asia, where condoms are manufactured in length of only 15 cm. In the world annually 2,5 billion condoms are produced, and half of them is bought by Japanese. In France, threshold of 100 million condoms a year was overcome in 1992.
  • Interrupted sexual intercourse is practiced by 7% of men.