10 things you might not know about contraceptives
1 The federal Comstock Act of 1873 labeled contraceptives obscene and effectively banned them. While poorly enforced, similar state laws survived until as late as 1965 before the U.S. Supreme Court threw them out in Griswold v. Connecticut.
2 A reader asked advice columnist Dear Abby: "Are birth control pills deductible?" Abby's answer: "Only if they don't work."
3 Margaret Sanger, the activist whose American Birth Control League was a predecessor of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was quite particular about how she and her movement were described. She popularized the straightforward term "birth control" and detested the more adman-friendly phrase "planned parenthood." According to Jean H. Baker's biography, Sanger's niece reflected her aunt's view by joking that "family planning" was so imprecise that it might refer to a family's plans for summer vacation.
4 The first tubal ligation in the United States was performed in Ohio in 1880, predating the first vasectomy by 19 years.
5 Long, long before there was the pill, first sold as a contraceptive in the U.S. in 1960, there was silphion. The root of the fennel-like plant, possibly the first oral contraceptive, was the go-to birth control method for ancient Greeks. Experts believe the plant was so popular that it was harvested to extinction.
6 Condoms' effectiveness and availability to the public took a huge leap forward in 1855 when they were first mass-produced using Charles Goodyear's new "vulcanized rubber." But those first rubbers were a far cry from what is available today: They had a seam and were as thick as a bicycle tire tube. The better latex rubber condoms arrived in the 1920s.
7 In the Middle Ages, women who wanted to avoid pregnancy were advised to spit three times into the mouth of a frog.
8 The Petrie Papyrus, an Egyptian document dating to 1850 B.C., is the oldest known guide to contraceptives. It recommended vaginal suppositories with such substances as gum, honey and crocodile dung.
9 One of the most popular birth control methods for American women in the middle of the 20th century was Lysol. It was heavily marketed as a product for feminine hygiene in U.S. newspaper advertisements, including the Tribune, but used as a contraceptive also.
10 The U.S. was alone among its World War I allies in not giving soldiers a valued piece of defensive equipment: the condom. Yet historians say the war was a turning point for condom use in this country because so many GIs adopted their use overseas and continued the practice back at home.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor for the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the newspaper's weekend editor.
Sources: "Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion" by Jean H. Baker; "Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America" by Andrea Tone; "Vasectomy" by George C. Denniston; "Birth Control" by Aharon W. Zorea; "Sex: A User's Guide" by Stephen Arnott; "Contraception: A History" by Robert Jutte; "Importance of Condom Use" by A. Benjamin; "Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine" by Steven Foster, Rebecca L. Johnson; "Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules That Changed History" by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson; "A History of the Birth Control Movement in America" by Peter C. Engelman; "The Best of Dear Abby" by Abigail Van Buren