The Greatest Hits in Contraceptive History

From crocodile dung to KISS condoms.

Pretty much since the beginning of time, people have looked for ways to control their own fertility—from jumping backward seven times after sex, to using elephant or crocodile dung as suppositories, to drinking mercury and donning reusable condoms. And for just as long, there’s been a veritable crusade against (mostly) women’s efforts to control reproduction. From the Book of Genesis to the 21st Olympiad, here are some notable moments in the war on contraception.

c. 1500 B.C.: The Book of Genesis describes God killing Onan after he “wasted his seed on the ground” during coitus interruptus. Thoughtfully rendered in LEGO here by Brendan Powell Smith. Brendan Powell Smith

1000 A.D.: Contraception gets medieval: European woman wear bones from the right side of black cats around their necks to stave off pregnancy. iStockphoto

1554: John Calvin calls masturbation “monstrous” and withdrawal “doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring.” Library of Congress

1789: In his memoirs Casanova describes condoms as “English riding coats” and the utility of the lemon rind as diaphragm. Library of Congress

1839: Charles Goodyear invents vulcanized rubber, which means flexible condoms, henceforth reducing breakage and eventually paving the way for ribbed, scented, glow-in-the-dark, studded, and even tobacco-flavored rubbers. Goodyear

1914: Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood, but before that she got in trouble with the law for creating propaganda such as the above. In 1914, she coined the term “birth control.” Library of Congress

1920s: Enter Prohibition, the Depression, and contraceptives sold as feminine hygiene products. Douching with Lysol was promoted as a way to “help protect your marital happiness.”

“In the meantime, play safe…”

1944: Engineer Gilmore Tilbrook patents the Rythmeter, which was subsequently promoted to the Catholic Church’s 21,535 priests and educators in the United States. Harvard Medical Library

1940s: During World War I, more than 18,000 doughboys came down with a fight-stopping ailment: STDs. By World War II, the military had an aggressive campaign going, including the training film USS VD: Ship of Shame, which urged sailors to “put it on before you put it in.”

1960: Approved in 1960, within two years more than 1.2 million women were on the high-dose oral contraceptive. Beathan/Corbis

1967: The Black Power Conference denounces the pill as “genocide.”

1968: Feature film Prudence and the Pill is released; in it, five women take the pill and comedically become pregnant.


1975: Radio stations steer clear of Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill,” but it still becomes a top 5 country hit: “This old maternity dress I’ve got/Is goin’ in the garbage/The clothes I’m wearin’ from now on/Won’t take up so much yardage/Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills/Yeah I’m makin’ up for all those years/Since I’ve got the pill.”


1975: Esquire, historically hostile to vasectomies, endorses the jockstrap for its spermicidal effects. somamix1/iStockphoto

1988: To repent for taking the pill, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar “asked God to bless them with as many children as he saw fit.” They now have 19 and counting.

1995: The Today sponge goes off the market, causing Elaine to panic and hoard in Seinfeld’s “Spongeworthy” episode. Dittrick Museum of Medical History

1999: The FDA approves the prescription emergency contraceptive Plan B. Phyllis Schlafly calls it an “abortion-inducing drug.” C. Berlet/Wikimedia

2002: $4.95 for a three-pack, a KISS condom offers “a wicked red latex coated with a special tongue lubrication.” Variety not pictured: Love Gun Protection.

2007: Fox, which ran a condom ad just 10 days after Magic Johnson announced he had HIV in 1989, rejects Trojan’s pigs in a bar commercial, saying, “Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy.” Trojan

2009: The Austrian co-inventor of the pill laments low birth rates caused by childless Europeans who want “to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it.”

2010: In Vancouver, more than 100,000 condoms handed out to Olympians weren’t enough to last two weeks; a last-minute shipment provided additional coverage.

2010: President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Health Care Act into law, ensuring that millions of women have insurance coverage for contraception. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

2013: Bill and Melinda Gates announce their Foundation will invest $100,000 in a team that can offer a strong proposal for a “next generation condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use.” Tiska Negeri/Reuters via ZUMA Press

2013: Texas Sen. Wendy Davis filibusters to kill a bill known as HB 2 that would shutter many abortion clinics in the state of Texas. During her 11 hours on the floor, she talks about the importance of Planned Parenthood to women’s health care—particularly their contraceptive services. Eric Gay/AP Photo

2015: Jezebel writer Jia Tolentino blogs her experience with her IUD insertion. (She’s not the first Jezebel writer to do so—Jenna Sauers penned a similar post in 2010.) flocu/iStock

2016: The lawsuit first filed three years prior by Little Sisters of the Poor in Denver against the Obama administration comes to a close at the Supreme Court—sort of. The suit was filed in protest of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, claiming it was a violation of religious liberties. The Supreme Court essentially punted the case back down to the lower courts. Jeff Malet/ZUMA Press


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