People have been having sex since the dawn of time — and not just to get pregnant. Prior to modern medicine, women relied on withdrawal or periodic abstinence to avoid pregnancy, but oftentimes these methods failed.
Now, about 62 percent of women of reproductive age are currently using some form of birth control. The pill and female sterilization have been the two most commonly used birth control methods since 1982. But unlike 1982, women now have a lot more options: the IUD, the patch, the pill, the implant, the female condom. Let’s take a look back at the progression of birth control in the United States and see how we got here.
(All birth control methods sold in the United States must be approved by the FDA. They have a chart of approved methods that you can check out.)
Condoms made of fish bladders or animal intestines were used around 3000 B.C and around 1500, the first spermicides were introduced. Condoms were made from linen cloth sheaths and then “soaked in a chemical solution and dried before using.”
Rubber condoms — made from vulcanized rubber — were first made in 1838. Latex was invented in the 1920s, which transformed condoms into what they are today. They can be stretched up to eight times before they fail. The discovery of AIDS as a sexually transmitted disease in the 1980s increased the popularity of the condom. Male condoms are now available in different sizes, colors, flavors and textures. There are also female condoms, which are worn internally by the female partner. First invented by a Danish doctor in the twentieth century, female condoms were originally made from polyurethane then synthetic nitrile and now some are latex. They protect against pregnancy and STIs when used correctly. Now, it is estimated 450 million condoms are sold per year.
The diaphragm was also invented in the 1880s, 1882 to be exact, which contributed to the emancipation of women in Victorian England, since it was the first time they were allowed to control their own fertility. Then in 2004, the first silicone diaphragm (Milex) became available. When used with spermicide, the diaphragm can be more effective barrier than the male condom. There are now multiple types: the latex arcing spring, coil spring, flat spring and the silicone wide seal rim.
But back in 1873, the Comstock Act passed in the United States made it illegal to distribute birth control or any sort of ads or information about birth control. The act also allowed postal workers to take any birth control sold through the mail.
This didn’t stop Margaret Sanger from fighting back though. In 1938, a judge lifted the federal ban on birth control due to Sanger’s court case. Diaphragms became popular after this, though then they were known as “womb veils.” Sanger kept up the fight and while in her 80s she wrote the research necessary to create the first human birth control pill. She raised about $150,000 for it as well. The first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was then approved by the FDA in 1960. However it was still illegal in some states to use birth control.
This changed in 1965, when the Supreme Court ruled that a state’s ban on the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy. Griswold v. Connecticut was brought forth by Estelle Griswold, the executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, because she and Dr. C. Lee Buxton, were arrested and found guilty as accessories to providing illegal contraception.
Three years later, the FDA approved intrauterine devices (IUDs), but in 1974 the FDA suspended the sale of the Dalkon Sheild IUD due to infections and seven documented deaths among users. But in the 2000s Mirena, a new levonorgestrel-releasing IUD, was introduced. Paraguard, Skyla and Liletta are other IUD options. In general, the IUD has been gaining popularity in the U.S. because of its effectiveness and simplicity once placed.
In 1970, the safety of oral contraceptives was the subject of congressional hearings. These talks brought around the creation of a lower-dose birth control pill.
Eisenstadt v. Baird, decided in 1972, established the right for anyone to use birth control, regardless of marital status, heralding a wave of contraceptive research and invention. In 1992, the FDA approved Depo-Provera, the first hormone shot used to prevent pregnancy. The shot is given once every 12 weeks. You should get the shot within five days of beginning your period.
From 2000-2006, many new methods were introduced, such as the patch, a vaginally-inserted ring, the five-year IUD and an implant.
The ring, invented in 2001, is inserted into your vagina and left in place for up to four weeks. The ring gives off hormones, like the patch or the pill. The patch was invented in 2002 and sticks to your skin for one week at a time. You change the patch every week for three weeks. Time called it one of the best inventions of 2002, because it is waterproof, almost invisible and won’t fall off. The patch releases hormones into your body, the same hormones the pill has. And the Implant was invented in 2006. It is a small rod that is inserted in the upper arm and prevent pregnancy for up to four years. And 2013, Plan B One-Step, an emergency contraceptive, became available without a prescription. Other forms of emergency contraception include Take Action, Next Choice One-Dose or My Way. These are all progestin-only and are available on the shelf. You can also use a different dose of a number of brands of regular birth control pills, which contain both progestin and estrogen. You would take the first dose as soon as possible (up to 120 hours) after you have sex with birth control or your birth control fails, or any other reason, and then you take the second dose 12 hours later. It is safe for all women to take emergency contraceptives, but make sure you don’t take more than one kind of emergency contraception at once.
Today, there is research being done for male birth control pills and methods for women-controlled methods that would prevent STIs.
There are so many methods out there, be sure to talk to a doctor about what works best for you! And don’t be shy about discussing birth control options with your friends, partners or family members. Maybe ask an older person what they used and why!
Here is what contraceptives HQ has to offer:
— The implant
— The pill
— Natural family planning
— The ring
— The patch
— Emergency contraception
— The shot