For men, who were, historically, freer to partake
in sexual activity than women, the primary reason for
using birth control was to avoid disease and illegitimate
children, and, to a lesser extent, to reduced the economic
burden of having too many children.

The “Natural” Way

Some social rules regarding birth control relied on
the abstinence or control of the male. For instance,
some indigenous Australian communities forbade men
to have sex with their wives for several months after
the birth of a child. In many areas in early Europe,
royalty and men of standing (e.g., among 10th-century
Ottonian Saxons) would have sex with their wives only
for procreation, usually resulting in a rapid succession
of births, after which they would spare their wives
from having too many children by turning to prostitutes
for recreation. Also in early Europe, men often turned
to prostitutes to limit the number of children in the
family, so as to prevent the family fortune from being
split among too many heirs.

Aristotle (384-322 BCE) wrote that homosexual
relations in Crete were an officially condoned population
control method. The Mohave of New Mexico considered
anal intercourse to be a favor to women, since it would
not result in pregnancy. In Jewish traditions, the
law of niddah separated a husband and wife during menstruation
to prevent conception during this time, for hygienic
and health reasons.

Hopeful, but unreliable, natural methods of birth
control included coitus reservatus (withholding
ejaculation) and coitus interruptus (ejaculating
outside the vagina). Coitus interruptus was
common during the time of Mohammed, and Islam endorsed
the practice, unless the woman disagreed. Meanwhile,
the Book of Genesis tells of the fate of Onan, who
practiced coitus interruptus with his dead
brother’s wife to prevent her from becoming pregnant:
he was put to death for “spilling his seed on the ground.”

Condoms

Historians believe that ancient Egyptian men wore
fabric condoms, mainly for protection from disease,
as long ago as 1000 BCE. The Romans used condoms made
of animal intestine. In the 1500s, Fallopius, an Italian,
invented a linen sheath to be worn to prevent the transmission
of syphilis – later in the century the cloth
was soaked in a chemical solution that was considered
to be a spermicide. By the 1700s, most condoms were
made out of animal intestines – they were expensive,
but could be washed and reused. (Often they came with
a silk ribbon with which to tie them on.) King Charles
II used animal-skin condoms to prevent having illegitimate
heirs or contracting diseases. Of course, Charles II
is not a testimony to the efficacy of animal-skin condoms:
he had at least 13 illegitimate children.

In 1844, vulcanized rubber condoms hit the markets.
Men generally wore them to avoid catching diseases
such as gonorrhea and syphilis. As a result, for years
afterward, condoms became associated with prostitution
and disease.

The first condom advertisement appeared in 1861 in
The New York Times – the product was “Dr. Power’s
French Preventatives.” Laws were passed in the US 12
years later making it illegal to advertise contraceptives
and allowing the postal service to confiscate condoms
sold through the mail. A similar law was passed in
1882 in Canada, making it illegal to sell or advertise
birth control, unless it was “for the public good.”

The first latex condom was invented in the 1880s,
but they were not widely used until the 1930s. During
World War I, the American troops were not allowed to
use condoms, as many Americans believed that “loose”
sexual behavior deserved the effects of disease. But
by World War II, US troops were encouraged to use condoms.
A training film urged, “Don’t forget – put it
on before you put it in.”

Also see History
of Female Contraception and It’s
a Mad, Mad World.

 

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