Virgin is not a dirty word.
October 29, 2009 9:00 AM   Subscribe

The Evolution of Birth Control.
posted by gman (39 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm going out and buying my daughter an anti-stork umbrella right now.
posted by brandman at 9:11 AM on October 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Silphium (not mentioned).
posted by Auden at 9:25 AM on October 29, 2009


Digaman's twitter is a font of wonders
posted by The Whelk at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2009


What's up with the "Racial" logo on the cervical cap in Picture 7?
posted by chavenet at 9:32 AM on October 29, 2009


Silphium (not mentioned).

Which is Where the heart symbol comes from
posted by delmoi at 9:33 AM on October 29, 2009


Can someone explain how that "stem pessary" is supposed to work. I googled for it but it only seems to explain how it was shaped, not what it was supposed to do.
posted by amethysts at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2009


Holy crap - contraception of all kinds was illegal in Connecticut until 1965??!!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:39 AM on October 29, 2009


I love love love the pic of Planned Parenthood ladies.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:41 AM on October 29, 2009


So, when somebody gives you a valentine, what they're really saying is "I want to have sex with you and use an extinct Cryrenian fennel as an herbal birth control?"

Somebody should make a card for that.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:43 AM on October 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


Can someone explain how that "stem pessary" is supposed to work. I googled for it but it only seems to explain how it was shaped, not what it was supposed to do.

Looks like they're more or less like modern IUDs--the top section (bowl-shaped, from the picture, but T-shaped in most modern IUDs) is inserted in the uterus, with the stem pointing down toward the cervix, and the little handle-shaped things (for removal) sticking out through the cervical opening and into the vagina. As to how they work, people aren't even entirely sure how IUDs work now, so who knows?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:44 AM on October 29, 2009


A stem pessary apparently has it's long end inserted into the uterus, where it grips somehow to keep the cap over the entrance. Like a giant thumbtack.
posted by phrontist at 9:46 AM on October 29, 2009


Silphium (not mentioned).

Which is Where the heart symbol comes from


Fascinating.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:46 AM on October 29, 2009


Looks like they're more or less like modern IUDs--the top section (bowl-shaped, from the picture, but T-shaped in most modern IUDs) is inserted in the uterus, with the stem pointing down toward the cervix, and the little handle-shaped things (for removal) sticking out through the cervical opening and into the vagina.

Actually, it's the other way around. The little t-shaped end goes into the uterus, while the bowl-shaped cap prevents the device from going completely into the uterus and allows removal. I think they would have had a hard time convincing any women to put that cap end up there. That looked pretty big.
posted by JauntyFedora at 9:49 AM on October 29, 2009


OK, so that's how it's shaped. Basically the principle is that walking around with a piece of metal in you will... do something.
posted by amethysts at 9:50 AM on October 29, 2009


Oh, and this is a cool retrospective, but I can't help but sort-of sneer at that last image. Conventional wisdom seems to state that women have more birth control options nowadays, but the options seem less diverse than what even my ten year old copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves suggest were once available. I recently had to go off of hormonal birth control because of high blood pressure (which, within a month off the pill, was perfectly normal again!). I've been pretty shocked at how few non-hormonal options are available: the cervical cap has been discontinued in the US, I haven't been able to find a gyno in my area that does diaphragm fittings or will insert a non-hormonal IUD (several told me that they don't do so anymore because so many women have them removed because of increased bleeding--they'll give me a Mirena, but I really don't want to go the hormonal route), spermicidal condoms are no longer being manufactured, spermicide itself is increasingly hard to find and only one, nonoxynol-9, is FDA approved in the US. The sponge is around again, so that's cool, except I'm allergic to sulfa drugs and so can't use them.

So condoms it is. Which is okay, I suppose, but I really feel like, in 2009, there should be more options than that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:54 AM on October 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


Actually, it's the other way around.

Really? Wow, those stems are long!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:55 AM on October 29, 2009


Basically the principle is that walking around with a piece of metal in you will... do something.

I THINk the principle is that if you put something inorganic inside your uterus, your body will go "omg foreign body must attack!" and generate scads of antibodies to just attack everything, but they will be ineffective because they're designed to handle celluar invaders rather than plastic, so these antibodies are in a constant state of attack. The principle is that those antibodies will then attack any spermatazoa that ever happen along as well.

I read this in a book that also claimed that the idea came from someone who noticed that Berber tribesmen would shove pebbles up their female camels' vaginas because that kept them from getting pregnant on long trans-saharan journeys. They tried to figure out why that worked, and...voila.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:03 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and PhobWan: the cervical cap can still be found here and there. I have one and absolutely SWEAR by it -- I got it in the late 1990's, and after setting it aside for a while (I only give up condoms when I'm in a longterm thing) I brought it back to my doctor in 2007 to check it was still okay; the doctor said that while it isn't easy to FIND here, it IS still approved by the FDA, so you can still get it.

It's just a hassle finding a doctor who knows what the hell one even is (when I brought my thing back for a checkup in 2007, I had a hell of a time convincing the admissions nurse that it was NOT a diaphragm, even after taking it out and showing her; the doctor later told me that all the nurses were playing a guessing game trying to figure out what the hell I had).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:06 AM on October 29, 2009


Conventional wisdom seems to state that women have more birth control options nowadays, but the options seem less diverse than what even my ten year old copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves suggest were once available.

Agree 1,000 percent. So many of us cannot happily take hormonal birth control. Few doctors fit diaphrams these days; cervical caps, who knows. Then there is the tilted cervix issue. Thank god for condoms, getting older and presumably less fertile, and (finally) dating a same-sex sweetie. :)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:09 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi - Also check out a planned parenthood. I had my cooper IUD placed there and was very pleased. The physician was very gung-ho about discussing many options, hormonal, non-hormonal and physical barriers. She says she places many a month, and had no problem placing it in me (even though I have never been pregnant)

An anecdote about the cooper IUD: I love it, it is full of awesome. I have not noticed any increased bleeding at all. The only downside is the cramping is slightly worse, and initial cost; which is way better than crazy moodswings and always wondering if I forgot to take a pill, or making sure the condom was ok.
posted by lizjohn at 10:16 AM on October 29, 2009


Oh, and PhobWan: the cervical cap can still be found here and there. I have one and absolutely SWEAR by it -- I got it in the late 1990's, and after setting it aside for a while (I only give up condoms when I'm in a longterm thing) I brought it back to my doctor in 2007 to check it was still okay; the doctor said that while it isn't easy to FIND here, it IS still approved by the FDA, so you can still get it.

Whoops, you're right--I was thinking of Lea's Shield, which was one of the two approved types, but has been discontinued in the US. It looks like I could get a FemCap, maybe, if I really really searched for a doctor who could fit me for one.

For IUDs, this contraceptive factsheet has a good run-down on the several possible mechanisms of action, under the "IUD" section.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:21 AM on October 29, 2009


Sadly, we only had to get to slide 2 (the third, curiously) to hear a completely mythical piece of historical crap reiterated: the chastity belt.

Contrary to the slideshow's claim that it "first appeared in 15th century Europe", the first-known appearance of the chastity belt is a fraudulent "medieval artifact", constructed in the 16th-century during the first Gothic revival craze. It survives in a French museum (Cluny?), often mislabeled in books as being an authentic medieval artifact.

It's an especially appealing, prurient myth, but there's no reason to believe in their actual use as contraceptive devices, ever. Modern fetishwear notwithstanding...
posted by IAmBroom at 10:30 AM on October 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I hadn't realized Griswold v. Connecticut legalized birth control by establishing a "right to marital privacy" based on constitutional amendments. It's an interesting and tenuous route to keeping the US government the hell out of our bedrooms, and apparently was important for the Lawrence v. Texas decision that allowed gay sex in Texas. Not to mention Roe v. Wade. It's a wonder our federal constitution doesn't have a more explicit guarantee of the state not meddling in people's private lives.

(PS: why does Newsweek hate HTML? "Scroll for More!")
posted by Nelson at 10:46 AM on October 29, 2009


HURF DURF LYSOL DOUCHER
posted by not_on_display at 12:33 PM on October 29, 2009


the first-known appearance of the chastity belt
Kyeser included a sketch of a chastity belt in his book Bellifortis, written in the early 1400s. Despite the fact that several 15th and 16th century writers also refer to chastity belts, the current trend is to dismiss Kyeser's description (he should have included a URL, right?). I think that's mainly because of Classen's book on the subject, which is only fair -- if you're the only guy who does the research, your opinion should be taken as authority.
posted by joaquim at 1:06 PM on October 29, 2009


Holy crap - contraception of all kinds was illegal in Connecticut until 1965??!!

Then you might be even more surprised that when Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987 by Ronald Reagan, it was an issue in the senate confirmation hearings that Bork supported overturning Griswold and going backwards. Incidentally, it was Joe Biden as a senator 22 years ago who interrogated Bork on the issue. His opinion about Griswold was one of the many reasons Bork ended up getting borked.
posted by JackFlash at 1:57 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


PhoBWan, don't give up; call around to more OB offices. All that's required for a diaphragm fitting is the OB having a kit of sample diaphragms from the manufacturer, and then it's just a matter of the OB putting one in and seeing if it fits/you seeing if it's comfortable, it's incredibly simple. Then they write the script and bam you're done.

HOWEVER, the things themselves can be hard to find; I had to go to a specialty pharmacy, which handles more obscure drugs, and they had them. The spermicide you can get at any drugstore. Most insurance doesn't cover them, but they last a LONG time, so you save a lot; they are about 70.00 last I saw, which is 7 mos or less of b/c pills on insurance. But the diaphragm will probably last you at least 2-3 years, unless you have a kid, which will change your size most likely.

I personally do not care for the sponge, Elaine's love on Seinfeld for them notwithstanding, and they're one-use only, so they get expensive.

Have not tried an IUD, they scare me :( but they don't require prep time, so they have that going for them.
posted by emjaybee at 2:03 PM on October 29, 2009


Forgot to add; when you dig deeper into the literature of anti-choice organizations, you will find they oppose Griswold as well as Roe. If Roe went, you can be sure the fight would just shift to Griswold. Add in the recent growth of the full-quiver movement and hysterical fear that giving girls cervical cancer vaccines are somehow immoral because they might possibly remove the possibility of getting cancer as an abstinence aid, and well, you kind of get a better picture of how recent and fragile women's right to reproductive choice of any kind is.
posted by emjaybee at 2:13 PM on October 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Holy crap - contraception of all kinds was illegal in Connecticut until 1965??!!

Damn activist judges making contraception legal.
posted by Mavri at 2:16 PM on October 29, 2009


I concur with emjaybee's post but would add that Griswold is far better reasoned than Roe and is an even more deeply settled legal case precedent. Also, I think there is a real divide even among right wing conservatives between the very religious and libertarians. Libertarians also think, like the Griswold majority, that government doesn't belong in the bedroom. Even a Republican appointee like Kennedy signed onto that idea. Very few think otherwise. Nonetheless, reproductive choice is indeed a fragile right.
posted by bearwife at 5:09 PM on October 29, 2009


Forgot to add; when you dig deeper into the literature of anti-choice organizations, you will find they oppose Griswold as well as Roe.

Do you have a cite? Are you talking about Catholic right-to-life groups? Because the fraction of anti-abortion protestants who refuse to use contraception on principle is ridiculously small. (And of course, many catholics use contraceptives too, and would let the government pry this right from their cold dead fingers, regardless of what they think of abortion.)

I think the Griswold stigma among prolifers has to do only with the privacy rights it found in the Constitution, which set a precedent for RvW. There's a difference, though, between bemoaning this progression of events, and wishing for contraceptives to be outlawed. There will NEVER be a significant lobby in the U.S. for the latter. That's just crazy talk.
posted by torticat at 10:01 PM on October 29, 2009


Do you have a cite? ... Because the fraction of anti-abortion protestants who refuse to use contraception on principle is ridiculously small.

Do you have a cite? Because the fraction of even legislators rather than anti-abortion protestors who support the idiocy known as "Abstenance only sex education" is depressingly large.
posted by Francis at 6:25 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Libertarians also think, like the Griswold majority, that government doesn't belong in the bedroom.

Actually I think you’ll find that, in practice, Libertarianism is quite flexible in that regard. You’ve got to draw the line on this freedom thing somewhere, people!

On topic: the term “English riding coat” is fantastic.
posted by Garak at 6:41 AM on October 30, 2009


Do you have a cite? ... Because the fraction of anti-abortion protestants who refuse to use contraception on principle is ridiculously small.

I haven't read it in a couple of years, but this NYTimes article is about the anti-contraception people. I have no idea if there is much advocacy for making birth control illegal again, but my impression is that they don't like Griswold, think states should be able to outlaw birth control, and it's not just about abortion. And it's not just Catholics either. I used to read more writings by these types of people, but had to take a break for my mental health, so I can't dredge up more specifics at this point.

There will NEVER be a significant lobby in the U.S. for [outlawing contraceptives]. That's just crazy talk.

Agree with both, but I bet the lobby wishing for contraceptives to be outlawed is bigger than you think. It's the unspoken desire beneath abstinence-only education. (Unspoken to the larger world, spoken amongst themselves b/c they wish to appear sane.)
posted by Mavri at 7:54 AM on October 30, 2009


Um, NY Times article.
posted by Mavri at 7:55 AM on October 30, 2009


Whatever happened to Lunelle? There was a shortage, and I had to switch to nuvaring, and it just never came back...

Despite my fear that the right might start gunning for making birth control illegal I don't see that happening any time soon. Even among self-professed pro-life supporters birth control use of some kind is the norm. The anti birth controlers are a very small fringe group, one that does more damage than good for the anti-choice cause by making them look, well, like wackjobs. The last I'd read, the number of people who were against birth control in general was in the single digits, percentage wise. That doesn't include the higher numbers who might be against government funding of, or providing it to minors, but it's still a pretty major number. The whole quiverfull movement is only in the tens of thousands of people. There are more people in favor of legalizing pot or prostitution, and neither of those groups have made any headway on policy changes, that's for sure.


PhoBWan, have you tried calling the companies that make the diaphragms and caps, and seeing if they can provide you with doctors in their area they know offer them? That, or go to planned parenthood. They're so often stigmatized as just abortions and STD testing for people who can't afford better, but they're really an amazing group. (I swear, half of my Ask answers seem to reference them, I love them so much) Usually the most up to date on the latest research and info, too. If anyone will be understanding about wanting a non-hormonal method besides condoms it's them.
(btw- many spermicides were pulled because it increased the risk of STDs by causing microscopic abrasions in the vagina.)
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:45 AM on October 30, 2009


Thanks for the article, Mavri. It doesn't really doesn't say anything, though, about any contingent of people who think Griswold should be overturned.

Southern Baptist Albert Mohler, for example, is quoted as saying "The effective separation of sex from procreation may be one of the most important defining marks of our age — and one of the most ominous." When you actually read his column, though, he argues that use of contraception by married couples is acceptable. I mean the guy is far far to the right, but he's not remotely arguing to overturn Griswold.

As for abstinence-only ed: I don't believe that's relevant. Social conservatives don't hate ALL SEX; they just hate the idea that society would countenance (or encourage, as they see it) premarital sex. And there's this misguided notion that if everyone would pull together and drum NOSEX into the kids' heads, unwed motherhood would decline. That's not the same as believing that, once married, women ought to go back to having "a child a year" as Scarlett O'Hara put it!

Another thing that makes conservatives leery of some forms of birth-control is the potential abortifacient properties of some of them (the pill, IUDs, Plan B). The NYT article is almost entirely about these forms of birth control. Some hardline conservatives, certainly, don't want to do anything that might destroy a fertilized egg. But only the tiniest fraction of those would also want, say, condoms to be legally unavailable in the U.S.
posted by torticat at 9:37 AM on October 30, 2009


A little late to the conversation, but I wanted to add that I was able to have the copper IUD inserted...after I left my gynecologist's office and went over to Planned Parenthood. My gyn wouldn't insert one on grounds that "it was too difficult for a patient that had not yet had children," and gave me a prescription for the ring instead. After I had explicitly stated that I had issues with hormonal BC in the past (Depo, 3 types of pills). The ring was not for me, so I contacted PP and explained my dilemma. I spoke to my partner, met with clinicians and a nurse-midwife, contacted my insurance provider (yay Blue Cross/Blue Shield), and boom! 30 minutes later I found myself exploring reproductive freedom without all of the hormonal side effects. I am a huge supporter of Planned Parenthood (this is the second clinic I've used), and suggest that anyone having difficulty obtaining the birth control they feel is correct for her body should not hesitate to make an appointment with them. It's a positive and relatively enlightened environment.

/end soapboxfangirlrant
posted by sara is disenchanted at 9:59 AM on November 2, 2009


Kyeser included a sketch of a chastity belt in his book Bellifortis, written in the early 1400s. Despite the fact that several 15th and 16th century writers also refer to chastity belts, the current trend is to dismiss Kyeser's description (he should have included a URL, right?). I think that's mainly because of Classen's book on the subject, which is only fair -- if you're the only guy who does the research, your opinion should be taken as authority.

joaquim, thank you SO MUCH for that reference! I am aware of one legitimate depiction of a chastity belt in a late 15th-c painting, but as it was on a mare (on military campaign, where foaling would be inconvenient), it's not really relevant...
posted by IAmBroom at 9:47 PM on November 3, 2009


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