Birth control or contraception; It is the prevention of pregnancy with the help of medication, devices or surgical procedures. As there are many methods, some of these methods also provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases.
Although birth control pills and hormone regulation methods commonly used today are modern birth control methods, people have been practicing birth control for thousands of years. Birth control methods recorded as being used in ancient Greece and Rome suggest that humans have probably been interested in preventing pregnancy since their inception.
Birth Control in Ancient Times
The first known examples of birth control and abortion were in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, B.C. It dates back to 1850. In the papyrus called Kahun Papyrus, it is explained how to prevent sperm from entering the uterus by using honey, acacia leaves or flax. It was also thought that breastfeeding babies until the age of 3 would provide birth control.
Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations discovered that a plant called silphium, often used as a spice, could also prevent pregnancy. Although we do not know today how effective the consumption of the extinct silphium plant is, it is known that in these civilizations its kilo was sold for more than a kilo of silver. This suggests that the plant was continuously harvested until it became extinct.
After silphium became extinct, sap obtained from the roots of its close cousin Ferula assafoetida began to be used. However, excessive use of this sap can be fatal. It is known that in other societies, a type of barrier method is applied by placing stones or garlic into the vagina.
Similarly, it has been recorded that tufts of grass, fabric or sea sponges were inserted into the vagina. Aristotle, one of the famous philosophers of the Ancient Greek Civilization, recommended applying cedar oil to the vagina before sexual intercourse.
Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Western Medicine”, lived in B.C. In the 4th century, he suggested that women should consume a mixture of iron sulphate and copper for birth control. He even claimed that consuming the poisonous mixture would provide birth control for 1 year.
Soranus of Ephesus, one of the first known doctors, suggested that women should hold their breath during sex and sneeze after the sperm enters the vagina. He also recommended that women jump backwards 7 times after this procedure. The purpose of these recommendations is to ensure that the sperm is expelled from the vagina.
According to Colgate University sociologist Norman E. Himes, most methods used for birth control in ancient times were probably inadequate.
Birth Control in the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, while the unknown effects of old birth control methods were discovered, new methods were also produced. In some regions, it was thought that wearing amulets made from beaver testicles, mule earwax, black cats, or other animals’ dried bones would also provide birth control.
Iranian Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, in his book written in the late 9th century, mentioned birth control methods such as stopping sexual intercourse, preventing ejaculation, and placing a barrier in front of the cervix. Recommended barriers are substances such as elephant dung, cabbage and pitch, and it has been stated that these can be used together.
The first syphilis epidemic in Europe began in the 15th century, around the same time that women in Europe moved away from the methods they used in ancient times for fear of being declared witches. Thanks to this epidemic, it was discovered that birth control methods called barrier contraceptives also prevent the transmission of sexual diseases. The first known condom was produced in 1564. This primitive condom consisted of a linen cover tied with a ribbon. However, women did not seem to have a say in whether their partners used this primitive condom, because the purpose of the condom was to protect men from sexual diseases.
It is also known that in the Middle Ages, women who had pregnancies out of wedlock due to church pressures concealed their pregnancies by wearing special corsets or dresses and then gave birth secretly.
Finally, Avicenna, who lived in the Middle Ages, stated in his book titled The Law of Medicine that placing mint in the cervix before sexual intercourse would provide birth control. In the same book, the spermicide properties of herbal substances are also mentioned.
Condoms, invented in the Middle Ages, began to be sold at exorbitant prices in bars, barbers and theaters in Europe and the USA in the 18th century. The first rubber condoms were introduced in the United States in 1855. The use of rubber made the condom flexible, and thus there was a great increase in condom use all over the world. Condom use became more common with the invention of latex condoms in the 1920s. Because latex condoms can last for years, unlike the rubber version, which has a three-month shelf life.
The term “birth control” was popularized around 1914, thanks to Margaret Sanger. The first birth control clinic, which Sanger opened in 1916, was closed 9 days after its opening on the grounds that it was against the law, and Sanger was arrested and tried. However, this situation mobilized feminists and Sanger received great support.
Sanger later prepared a project called the Negro Project and tried to ensure that black people also received birth control education. One of the aims of the project was to open clinics founded by black people, but the American Birth Control Federation, which funded the project, deviated from this goal and used its resources to support already existing clinics, most of which were under the control of white doctors and nurses.
Thanks to the efforts of Margaret Sanger and her contemporaries, the idea that sex need not be solely for procreative purposes, and thus birth control, became widespread. Between 1920 and 1950, the way people in the United States viewed birth control changed dramatically. The concept of birth control has led to the emergence of different questions in many areas such as personal freedom, liberal and conservative values, areas of authority and intervention of states, religion and politics, sexual morality and social welfare.
The United Kingdom began providing free birth control to its citizens as of 1974. In China, where the one-child policy was implemented, 70% of adults of reproductive age were using some form of contraceptive as of 1979.
Intrauterine Devices (spirals) made from silkworm intestine were invented in 1909, and IUDs were developed throughout the 1920s. However, this method was seen by the Nazis as a threat to the survival of the Aryan race, and its use was restricted soon after its invention. However, this ban did not stop the development of IUDs. In the 1960s, copper began to be used in IUDs, thus increasing the protection rate to 95%. The development of hormonal IUDs began at a later date. Today, IUDs are a frequently preferred birth control method and are reversible, meaning they can be removed from the uterus.
Cervical Cap (Cap) and Sponges
A cervical cap is a birth control device that is placed in the vagina and prevents sperm from reaching the uterus. The first versions of cervical caps were invented by Dr. It was further developed by Marie Stopes. Stopes thought that the development of birth control methods could prevent the births of “undesirables”.
Stopes also thought that sponges impregnated with spermicidal liquids could also be useful in birth control. Like cervical caps and condoms, sponges have been reinvented over time and made more effective. Sponges, which function similarly to birth control tampons, were widely used in the 20th century.
Birth Control Pills
In the 1950s, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, with the contributions of Gregory Pincus and John Rock, produced the first birth control pill. However, these pills were insufficiently accessible until the 1960s.
However, in the USA, married couples were allowed to use birth control by court decision in the mid-1960s, and in 1972, this right was also granted to unmarried couples. Research has shown that one-third of the wage gains women have achieved since the 1960s are a direct result of their access to birth control pills.
The reason for this is that women may face difficulties in business and education life if they cannot decide whether to have children or not. Additionally, a certain period of time between two births prevents low birth weights and premature births. Moreover, family planning programs have reduced both adult and child poverty rates.
Birth Control Today
According to data from 2020, 1.1 billion of the 1.9 billion people of childbearing age (between the ages of 15-49) needed some form of birth control. While 851 million of these women were using modern birth control methods, 85 million were using one of the traditional methods. Of the remaining 172 million, although they wanted to use birth control, they did not have access to any method.
Between 2000 and 2020, the number of women using modern birth control methods increased by 188 million. This increase has been driven almost equally by the number of women of childbearing age and the increase in the percentage of women of this age using modern contraceptive methods. In these 20 years, the proportion of women who had access to modern birth control methods increased from 73.6% to 76.8%. However, these rates are very different in different parts of the Earth.
For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only half of women who want to prevent pregnancy use modern birth control methods, while this rate is around 80% in more developed regions of the world.
Unfortunately, in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where one in 10 of women giving birth in 2020 were children aged 15-19, adolescents are still a vulnerable group. Since 2000, the proportion of adolescents aged 15-19 whose contraceptive needs are not met has increased by more than 50% in Sub-Saharan Africa, while this rate has decreased or remained stable in the rest of the world. According to a 2013 study by
Hacettepe University, 74% of married women in Turkey use one of the modern birth control methods. The most commonly used methods are IUD and male condoms, respectively. Withdrawal remains the most commonly used traditional method.
Resources and Further Reading
- Pandia Health. Birth Control Throughout History: Facts, Superstitions, And Wives Tales. Date Received: June 10, 2023. Retrieved From: Pandia Health | Archive Link
- P. Carrick. (2001). Medical Ethics In The Ancient World (Clinical Medical Ethics). ISBN: 9780878408498.
- C. Comparetto. The History Of Contraception: From Ancient Egyptians To The “Morning After”. Date Retrieved: June 10, 2023. Retrieved From: Research Gate | Archive Link Soranus.
- Soranus’ Gynecology. ISBN: 9780801843204.
- V. L. Bullough. Encyclopedia Of Birth Control. ISBN: 9781576071816.
- P. Ogden. 5 Birth Control Methods In The Medieval Period. Date Retrieved: June 11, 2023. Retrieved From: TheCollector | Archive Link
- Smith College. The Negro Project – Making Democracy Real. Date Received: July 26, 2023. Retrieved From: Smith College | Archive Link
- P. Kane, et al. (2011). China’s One Child Family Policy. BMJ, pp: 992-994. doi: 10.1136/bmj.319.7215.992. | Archive Link
- J. Bongaarts. (2020). United Nations Department Of Economic And Social Affairs, Population Divisionworld Family Planning 2020: Highlights, United Nations Publications, 2020. 46 P.. Wiley, pp: 857-858. doi: 10.1111/padr.12377. | Archive Link
- Hacettepe University. Hacettepe University Population Studies Institute. Date of Retrieval: July 11, 2023. Retrieved from: Hacettepe University | Archive Link
- Europeana. Contraception In Ancient History. Date Retrieved: June 11, 2023. Retrieved From: Europeana | Archive Link
- G. B. Ateşer, et al. (2017). Preferences For Contraception Methods In Turkish Women. Aves Publishing Inc.. doi: 10.5222/otd.2017.1094. | Archive Link