by Iva Cheung
This year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the birth control pill, which many considered to have empowered women and sparked the sexual revolution. But as this list will show, women have had some control over their reproductive rights for millennia, although some of these ancient birth control methods were, admittedly, more terrifying than most of the methods in use today.
To be included on this list, the birth control had to be at least plausibly effective to some degree. Records exist of women in ancient Rome and Greece relying on dances and amulets to prevent pregnancy, and we can safely assume that those probably didn’t do much. At the risk of stirring up controversy, I’ve listed both contraceptives—which prevent sperm from fertilizing egg—and abortifacients, which induce abortion. For the sake of interest, I’ve focused on methods that would be unusual today, and not on methods that are still regularly practiced—like abstinence, coitus interruptus, or fertility awareness—to similar effect now as a few centuries ago. These items are in no particular order.