To avoid undesired pregnancies is an ancient problem, but only in recent times has it been possible to find effective and sure solutions. In particular, through the use of hormones, contraception has become decidedly successful.

Before entering in detail in a description of current contraceptive alternatives, one could glance at how the problem was confronted in the past.

Short History of Contraception

Egyptian papyrus scrolls dating around 1550-1800 B.C.E. record contraceptive preparations that were to be introduced into the vagina. Tampons made of wool that had been impregnated with acacia honey, or wax and pomegranate seeds, in which today we know to contain phytoestrogens, capable of influencing the production of gonadotropin.

In a few Hindu texts of the 1st century B.C.E. mention chemical means for contraception: medicinal plants which today are known to have anti-gonadotropin effects.

In the 1st century one of the “fathers” of medicine, Sorano, defined for the first time, in his work Gynecia, the difference between the concept of contraception “atokion” and that of abortion “phtorion”, placing the accent on the necessity of a preventive operation to control births, as an alternative to the widespread use of infanticide.

Medical advances underwent a dramatic hiatus during the Middle Ages, during which time oppressive ignorant attitudes towards sexuality ruled, especially towards feminine sexuality. In this period a distinction should be made between the Arab-Islamic world, where the religion was more tollerant and favorably inclined towards birth control, and the Christian world, heavily influenced by the Catholic church that condemned and repressed contemporaneously sexuality and contraception.

From the 18th Century one can observe a significant revolution that can be summarized as follows:

– the introduction of contraception at the individual family level. Until this age, in fact, contraception was used primarily in an extra-marital framework, particularly with prostitutes;

– the “democratization” of contraception, practiced previously principally among the well-to-do classes;

– technological progress and, in particular, the discovery of the vulcanization of rubber by Goodyear (1843), which brought about the substitution of rubber for veal intestines in the production of condoms.

In the 20th Century ancient methods were perfected and new methods discovered. One of the early pioneers was Margaret Sanger. Around 1920, when women were still forced to undergo cladestine abortions, undertook a battle to control births, publishing pamphlets and founding the first clinic for family planning in Brooklyn. For her commitment to this initiative Sanger paid the price of reclusion.

In 1944 it was the foundation of which Sanger was chairperson to allocate a significant financing to Pincus for the study of an hormonal contraception. In 1956 Pincus successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of a contraception based on the oral administration of oral hormones.

In 1960 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, after years of experimental studies, authorized sale of a drug containing 10 milligrams of noretinodrel and 0.15 milligrams of an estrogen, mestranol: “Enovid”, the first product in pharmaceutical history to be identified as a contraception.


  • The Pill
  • Vaginal Ring
  • Hormonal Patch
  • The Day-After Pill
  • The IUD
  • The Diaphragm
  • Condoms
  • Other methods of contraception
  • The Male Pill
  • Sterilization

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