website statistics

The Fascinating Evolution of Birth Control... Just don't call chastity belts 'contraception'

Newsweek had an interesting little online feature on the history of birth control highlighting the brave, inspiring (and sometimes brutal and toxic) work by women and men to allow us to decide if and when we become parents.

There's information about early versions of cervical caps from the 1920s and 16th century condoms, and they describe the earliest spermicides made of cedar oil and lead(!) ointment. Yes, the lead went inside the ladies.

I especially like the photos and illustrations they dug up. Like this one above of Scottish doctor Marie Stopes who wrote a guide to contraception in 1918 called Wise Parenthood. She opened the first of her birth control clinics in North London in 1921, the same year Margaret Sanger opened her first clinic in Brooklyn.

Estelle Griswold, medical adviser and executive director of Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven, and Mrs. Ernest Jahncke, president of the Parenthood League of CT.

And I just adore the look on these two women's faces as they celebrate Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. The headline reads "High Court Rules Birth Control Law Unconstitutional." This was the US Supreme Court case which struck down the prohibition of birth control in that state. Yes - this happened in 1965! It established 'right of privacy' which allowed people to plan their own sexual and reproductive lives, an important precedent for Roe v. Wade.

I do have one major issue with their discussion of chastity belts, which they flippantly call 'an early attempt at abstinence-only education.' These barbaric devices were instruments of torture - and a heinous way for men to control the lives of their women. In fact, according to the curator of the Museum of Sex, you can find early chastity belts in museums of torture, and not in her museum.

I also take issue with calling chastity belts a form of contraception. Contraception's purpose is to prevent conception after a sex act. Preventing someone from having sex in the first place doesn't quite count. I'd say abstinence is in that same category. There's no need for contraception if there's no sex happening.

Thanks to polarchip for the link!!