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What Was The First Birth Control?

Birth control has a very complicated history and has gone through many phases as I’m sure you can imagine. The first form was discovered around 1850 BC Ancient Egypt. Papyrus scrolls were found with directions on how to make birth control. A recipe if you will! Honey and acacia leaves were part of the DIY concoction and lint was used as a cervical cap.

Breastfeeding for 3 years was also used as a form of birth control, but we now know this doesn’t work. You can get pregnant while breastfeeding, people! 

In North Africa, the silphium plant was used and they used the asafoetida or copper salt in Greece. The withdrawal method (or pull-out method as we say today) was quite popular and spanned wayyy back. 

There were lots of risks to taking these forms of birth control as many of the plants were poisonous. Labour and pregnancy alone killed many women of that time period, so it made sense why they were willing to take the risk. Performing these forms of birth control did not come without criticism. The Catholic Church deemed birth control immoral. Women who participated in any form of birth control were condemned by the church and labeled as witches. 

I know what you’re thinking, where are the condoms? During the Renaissance era of Europe, syphilis broke out and condoms were invented to prevent the spread. For a while, condoms were only used to protect from STIs–not to prevent pregnancy. By the 1840’s many US states had banned the use of contraceptives, and by 1888, abortion was outlawed. Sometimes it still feels like we’re living in the 19th century…

After the 1800’s in Europe, condoms became more popular as they started being seen in a multifaceted light. The price of rubber went down and new manufacturing techniques helped. In the Victorian era, abortions were legal until “quickening” (feeling the fetus move), but white middle-class Protestant women were the most likely to access this medical procedure. Birth rates decreased toward the end of this era as European women were more educated about birth control, and it became more accessible. 

The pill was invented in the 1950s by Planned Parenthood, not without hurdles. The Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court case had to be overturned allowing married couples access to the pill. A decade later, unmarried couples had the right to it as well. The pill has changed lives in so many different ways. Wage is directly connected to children, as having kids costs money! Allowing women the choice of having children has improved autonomy and provided the chance to earn a significantly higher wage than they possibly would if not given the choice. Having access to the pill is the biggest driver of enabling women to stay in college if already enrolled. College enrollment in the 70’s was 20% higher among women who had access to the pill. Drop out rates are lower for women who have access to the pill as well. Lastly, when women can plan and space out their pregnancies, it results in better health outcomes for parent and baby! 

We have come a long way, but the journey isn’t over. The struggle for women’s rights continues and it is not without sacrifice. Which fact surprised you the most? 



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