10 Crazy Contraceptives from History



Lysol was actually advertised as a feminine hygiene product for several decades. We're glad that's over. © iStockphoto/NoDerog
Lysol was actually advertised as a feminine hygiene product for several decades. We're glad that's over. © iStockphoto/NoDerog

You may use Lysol for cleaning and disinfecting, but there once was a time when it was also considered contraception.

Lysol advertised its disinfectant as a feminine hygiene product in the early 20th century, and between 1930 and 1960, when the first oral contraceptive appeared on the market, douching -- and the Lysol douche -- was the most popular choice of birth control for women [source: DeNoon]. Until the early 1950s Lysol contained an ingredient called cresol, a compound known to cause burns and blistering, inflammation, poisoning and even death -- the very opposite of the gentle formula advertised by the manufacturer. After 1953, they changed the formula, although it was still harmful when used on or in the human body. In addition to its toxic effects, Lysol wasn't actually an effective contraceptive.

Author's Note: 10 Crazy Contraceptives From History

One of my favorite moments researching these crazy contraceptives wasn't the rabbit anuses, the mercury drinking or the opium diaphragms (none of which actually made it into the article, but are still just as crazy as the ones that did). Nor was it the horrifying realization that women once douched with Lysol, and that some continue to douche with Diet Coke. It was about silphium, the plant the ancient Greeks and Romans used -- and used up -- as birth control. Specifically the idea that silphium seeds were heart-shaped, and may be the reason we associate the heart-shaped symbol with love still today.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • ABC. "Toronto museum explores history of contraceptives." Aug. 13, 2003. (March 21, 2014) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2003-08-13/toronto-museum-explores-history-of-contraceptives/1463884
  • Anderson, Deborah. "Coca-Cola douches and contraception." BMJ. Vol. 337. Dec. 18, 2008. (March 21, 2014) http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2873
  • AVERT. "Condoms: Effectiveness, History and Availability." (March 21, 2012) http://www.avert.org/condoms-effectiveness-history-and-availability.htm
  • Brookes, Daniel E. "Hemlock Poisoning." Medscape. March 3, 2014. (March 21, 2014) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/821362-overview
  • Clarke, GN; McCoombe, SG; and RV Short. "Sperm immobilizing properties of lemon juice." Fertility & Sterility. Vol. 85, no. 5. Pages 1529-1530. May 2006. (March 21, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16566931
  • Davidson, Emily R.W. "Historical contraception: birth control before 'the pill'" Hektoen International Journal. Vo.l 4, no. 3. 2012. (March 21, 2014) http://www.hektoeninternational.org/historical-contraception.html
  • DeNoon, Daniel. "A History of Birth Control." WebMD. Aug. 6, 2001. (March 21, 2014) http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=51170
  • DeNoon, Daniel. "Birth Control Timeline." WebMD. July 17, 2003. (March 21, 2014) http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52188
  • Empen, Kathy. "Conception Slideshow: From Egg to Embryo." WebMD. Sept. 2, 2011. (March 21, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/baby/ss/slideshow-conception
  • Eveleth, Rose. "Lysol's Vintage Ads Subtly Pushed Women to Use Its Disinfectant as Birth Control." Smithsonian Magazine. Sept. 30, 2013. (March 21, 2014) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/smart-news/lysols-vintage-ads-subtly-pushed-women-to-use-its-disinfectant-as-birth-control-218734/
  • Foran, Terri. "Fitting a diaphragm." MedcineToday. Vol. 9, no. 8. Pages 60-62. August 2008. (March 21, 2014) http://www.medicinetoday.com.au/2008/august/article/fitting-diaphragm
  • Fox, Maggie. "Spermicide Coke, stale chips research wins Ig Nobels." Reuters. Oct. 3, 2008. (March 21, 2014) http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/10/03/us-ignobels-idUSTRE49200220081003
  • Hecht, Jeff. "'Coca-Cola douches scoop Ig Nobel prize." NewScientist. October 2008. (March 21, 2014) http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14864-cocacola-douches-scoop-ig-nobel-prize.html
  • Kolata, Gina. "In Ancient Times, Flowers and Fennel For Family Planning." The New York Times. March 8, 1994. (March 21, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/1994/03/08/science/in-ancient-times-flowers-and-fennel-for-family-planning.html
  • London Medical Gazette: Or, Journal of Practical Medicine. Vol. 19 Pages 767-770. (March 21, 2014) http://books.google.com/books/about/London_Medical_Gazette.html?id=UrXJcWbe8kUC
  • McDonell, Keelin. "The Shape of My Heart." Slate. February 2006. (March 21, 2014) http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2006/02/the_shape_of_my_heart.html
  • Museum of Contraception and Abortion (MUVS). "Contraception - Vaginal Barriers: Lemon Half." (March 21, 2014) http://en.muvs.org/contraception/barriers/zitronenhaelfte-id2518/
  • National Institutes of Health - MedlinePlus. "Pennyroyal." Dec. 24, 2012. (March 21, 2014) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/480.html
  • National Institutes of Health - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Pennyroyal Oil (Mentha Pulegium)." (March 21, 2014) http://livertox.nlm.nih.gov/Pennyroyal.htm
  • Pal, Durba; Chakraborty, Pratip; Ray, H.N.; Pal, B.C.; Mitra, Debashis; and Syed N. Kabir. "Acaciaside-B-enriched fraction of Acacia auriculiformis is a prospective spermicide with no mutagenic property." Reproduction. Vol. 138. Pages 453-462. September 1, 2009. (March 21, 2014) http://www.reproduction-online.org/content/138/3/453.full
  • Pasulka, Nicole. "When Women Used Lysol as Birth Control." Mother Jones. February 2012. (March 21, 2014) http://www.motherjones.com/slideshows/2012/02/when-women-used-lysol-birth-control/lysol-douche-cobweb
  • PBS. "People & Events: Birth Control Before the Pill." (March 21, 2014) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/e_options.html
  • Purlackee, Sarah. "Ancient Egyptians' Guide to Sex." Student BMJ. (March 21, 2014) http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/757941_3
  • Rodriguez McRobbie, Linda. "Black Cat Bones, Crocodile Dung, and Coca-Cola: 9 Fascinating Historical Methods of Contraception." Metal Floss. Feb. 25, 2013. (March 21, 2014) http://mentalfloss.com/article/49086/black-cat-bones-crocodile-dung-and-coca-cola-9-fascinating-historic-methods
  • Thacker, Paul D. "Reviews." Discover. January 1 2001. (March 21, 2014) http://discovermagazine.com/2001/jan/featreviews
  • Van de Walle, √Čtienne. "Birth prevention before the era of modern contraception." Population & Societies. No. 418. December 2005. (March 21, 2014) http://www.ined.fr/fichier/t_telechargement/36873/telechargement_fichier_en_pop.and.soc.english.418.pdf
  • Zimmerman, Michael. "Pope Promotes Birth Control." The Huffington Post. March 22, 2013. (March 21, 2014) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-zimmerman/pope-promotes-birth-control_b_2930607.html


Want Just a Few Kids? Ask Mom to Move In

Want Just a Few Kids? Ask Mom to Move In

Mom or mother-in-law live with you and the hubby? She might be interfering with your reproduction rates. Find about this new study at HowStuffWorks.