Science & People

History of birth control | The way it works, options, and side effects

The emergence of reliable and effective contraceptive methods is the product of years of effort. By controlling pregnancy, human behaviors and beliefs have changed unbelievably. Like many subjects of medicine, contraception is a controversial subject as it contains issues related to human core values. However, our desire to control pregnancy goes back to ancient times. Although men have also suffered over the years, they are always women who risk their lives for birth control.

The first birth control method

Oracle papyrus (1850 BC) in Egypt mentions that plant and crocodile feces were pulverized and used as a uterine suppository. Although effective, it was known to cause irritation and infection, but still, the uterine suppositories made from dried feces were used in many areas. Less dangerous and painless than this was to use snakeskin condoms.

The first spermicides

Considering millions of sperm trying to be the first to pierce the egg is such a complex adventure that even preventing this process at any point can be a precaution for contraception. For this reason, substances such as suppositories sent into the vagina can intercept the sperm in many different ways. The presence of a suppository can delay the fateful meeting of sperm and egg by altering the mobility of the sperm in the vagina or protect the cervical os with a wax-like substance such as various animal feces, fermented dough, acacia gum. Uterine suppositories used today are called vaginal suppositories. These contain a substance such as nonoxynol-9, spermicides (sperm killers) and wax, and are taken just before having sexual intercourse.

Spiral is one of the most widely used intrauterine devices today.
Spiral is one of the most widely used intrauterine devices today.

Condoms, cervical vessels, female condoms, and many other physical barriers are now made of materials such as latex and polyurethane and are supported by spermicide content. Intrauterine devices (IUD) usually made of copper, are about 2 inches long and in different shapes. Once placed in the uterus, it can prevent the fertilized egg from adhering to the wall of the uterus, thereby providing protection from pregnancy for many years. Surgical methods such as having the tubes tied and vasectomy, block the channels leading to the germ cells in men and women.

Herbal options: wild carrots

The history of oral birth control or oral contraceptives goes back to 2,000 years ago. The wild carrot (Daucus carota) is known to be very effective in this regard and it is the first known method of oral contraception. Studies on mice have revealed that wild carrots inhibit the production of progesterone (a hormone in the ovaries that is effective in pregnancy). However, little research is done on herbal medicines and their side effects. Nonetheless, the wild carrot is still used as an oral birth control even in rural areas of the United States.

Other plants used for birth control are silphium, pennyroyal (English peppermint), asafoetida, artemisia, myrrh, rue, willow, palm tree, cabbage, juniper, pine, onion varieties, and acacia gum. Some of these plants are quite poisonous, and their strength quite differs from each other.

Birth control pills

Margaret Sanger was the birth control activist who put forward the idea of contraception rights.
Margaret Sanger was the first birth control activist who put forward the idea of contraception rights.

Here come the birth control pills. Birth control pills are an oral contraception method tailored for women. With the introduction of these pills in the 1960s, women began to have more control over their own lives, which affected family life so profoundly that many consider it the most socially important medical development of the century. Today's contraceptive pills contain progestin or a mixture of estrogen and progestin and have a 100 percent effectiveness. These low-dose and highly effective pills have serious side effects, but they are used by millions of women and are the most preferred method among non-surgical birth prevention methods.

Doctor Gregory Pincus developed the first hormonal contraceptive pill containing estrogen and progesterone at the proposal of Margaret Sanger and the American Planned Parenthood Federation. These pills contain very high doses of hormones and have severe side effects that lead to coagulation, heart attack, and stroke in the vessels leading to the lungs. They were tested on 6,000 women in Haiti and Puerto Rico before being released in the United States.

New generation birth control drug

Today, there is a wide variety of hormone-based pills that prevent the pituitary glands (initiating ovulation) to secrete peptide hormones by changing the balance of steroid hormones (primarily estrogen and progesterone) in the ovaries to prevent pregnancy and regulate menstrual bleeding. These pills also prevent the penetration of sperm into the uterus by thickening the cervical mucus, and formation of the uterine wall where the fertilized egg is held.

The Playboy magazine's growth coincides with the popularity of birth control.
The Playboy magazine's growth coincides with the popularity of birth control.

These pills have given women the right to veto their pregnancy, slightly alleviating this responsibility for men. The publisher of the Playboy magazine Hugh Hefner expertly used the sexual revolution that came with these pills and stated that sexuality had changed from reproduction to entertainment with this invention. This pill empowers women over their own bodies while at the same time freeing men from thinking about the consequences of their actions. The use of barrier methods and spermicides requires cooperation in sexual intercourse or at least some knowledge of birth control.

The idea of ​​sexuality that does not result in pregnancy is revolutionary, especially for those who have an active sexual life while putting new pressures on the concepts of sexuality, loyalty, romance, marriage, and family. While many new attitudes and behaviors that have arisen with birth control pills continue to shape societies, the emergence of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS warns today's youth to be careful about their sexuality.