Testing Condoms in 1935, and Other Old Forms of Birth Control

Unlike today’s modern birth control choices, there have been many forms that have been around for literally thousands of years. National Geographic has stated that birth control efforts have been used since the human being created societies. At one point, sponges were used that were actually pretty successful as the sponge would soak up semen.

Other forms before the 19th-century included animal skins or intestines. Lemon juice or other acidic choices were also used before the modern spermicides in condoms. During ancient times, they would make a mixture of honey and lemon and spread it on a sponge.

Many methods, unfortunately, were not safe causing a great deal of discomfort or leading to infections. That said, people have been pursuing ways to control birth for thousands of years whether considered safe or legal.

Roman, 200 BCE-400 CE Bronze pessary. A pessary in this context is a way of blocking the cervix. The gap allows a rod to be placed into the cervix to hold the pessary in place. While it could remain in place during intercourse, such intercourse could be painful. IMAGE: SCIENCE MUSEUM, LONDON / CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
c. 1880 This type of gold wishbone stem pessary is an intra-cervical device (IUC). These tools came into use as a contraceptive towards the end of the 1800s. The flat end of the stem pessary sat against the vaginal wall with a stem protruding into the uterus through the cervix. An IUC works after conception. It stops a newly fertilised embryo implanting and growing in the lining of the uterus. IUCs were mostly surpassed by the intrauterine device (IUD). An IUD sits entirely within the uterus, reducing the risk of bacterial transfer between the cervix and uterus. This can lead to infection and sterility. IMAGE: SCIENCE MUSEUM, LONDON / CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
c. 1910s Contraceptive sponge. Sponges were widely used as contraception in the early 1900s. This contraceptive sponge is made of rubber, and such sponges – essentially a cervical blockage – were one of a range of contraceptives promoted by the Society for Constructive Birth Control, the organisation was founded by Dr. Marie Stopes (1880-1958). This sponge is in its original aluminium box and was manufactured in Britain by Elarco. IMAGE: SCIENCE MUSEUM / CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
c. 1910s This condom is made of animal gut membrane, known as caecal. Caecal condoms were effective against pregnancy because animal membrane is porous to viruses. They do not reliably protect against sexually transmitted infections such as AIDS. This example was made by chemists John Bell and Croyden Limited. IMAGE: SCIENCE MUSEUM, LONDON/CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
c. 1920s The “Prorace” brand of contraceptives was developed by Dr. Marie Stopes (1880-1958). They were distributed by the Mother’s Clinic, which opened in London in 1921. These contraceptive pessaries contain spermicides to kill sperm. They were used alone or with other contraceptives, such as the cap or diaphragm. The pessaries were manufactured by John Bell and Croyden Limited of London. The trademarked “Prorace” related to Stopes’ belief in eugenics. This widely held theory in the early 1900s argued selective breeding could remove “undesirables” from society. IMAGE: SCIENCE MUSEUM, LONDON / CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
c. 1920s “Prorace” cervical cap. IMAGE: CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
c. 1920 Rubber vault cap. Contraceptive caps are also called cervical, vault or diaphragm caps. They are barrier contraceptives. Contraceptive caps sit over the cervix. They act as a barrier to sperm entering the uterus. This “Racial” brand of cervical cap was modified by Dr. Marie Stopes (1880-1958). The trademark “Racial” related to Stopes’ belief in eugenics. IMAGE: CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
c. 1920 Stem pessaries were intrauterine devices (IUDs). They consisted of a rubber, metal or glass stem attached to a cup or button to hold the stem upright and prevent it becoming lost in the uterus. This example is made of glass. Smaller plastic or copper IUDs are still used today. IMAGE: SCIENCE MUSEUM, LONDON/CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
Late 1920s This aluminium stem pessary was made by German company Rauch. The stem held the tool in place. IMAGE: CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
c. 1925 Stem pessaries are intrauterine devices (IUDs). They were a common gynecological treatment in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were also used as a contraceptive. This early intrauterine stem pessary consists of catgut loop and bone. The stem held the larger block in place. IMAGE: SCIENCE MUSEUM, LONDON / CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>
c. 1920s German gynaecologist Ernst Grafenberg devised this intrauterine device (IUD) and was a popular contraceptive. Early examples were made of silkworm gut and silver wire. An IUD works after conception by stopping a newly fertilised embryo implanting and growing in the lining of the uterus. Inserted into the uterus by a physician, it could be left in place for several years. IMAGE: CREATIVE COMMONS VIA WELLCOME IMAGES>

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1935 Testing condoms.

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