"Old school" (Pong, foot-shaped gas pedals and sparkly blue eye shadow) is in. "New school" (hand-held electronic pets, Mendhi body painting and that neon lighting people put underneath their cars) is out.
And if the newfound popularity of the History of Contraception Museum is any indication, "old-school" contraceptives — such as the Multiload
Mark II 380 with one-handed insertion device, the Saf-T-Coil, and something called the Uterector — might just be, according to our street sources, the next hip thing.
The Museum, a half-dozen or so display cases in a figuratively sterile hallway of Toronto pharmaceutical company Ortho-McNeil, walks visitors from contraception’s conception through to the nasal spray and computer chip implant future of the prevention of survival-capable zygotes.
So let’s follow the grouped-by-method footsteps through contraception’s long, sticky, sometimes not-so-pleasant (odor-wise) history.
About 4,000 years ago, Chinese women drank a mixture of lead and mercury which, apparently, did keep them from getting pregnant, probably because it sterilized and eventually killed them.
Other ancient oral remedies, such as digesting a potion of alcohol and dried beaver testicles, was practiced in New Brunswick (which is, apparently, Canada’s sexual version of the Ozarks) as recently as the early 1900s.
When researchers found that women in a particular Mexican tribe seemed to be successfully avoiding contraception by eating a certain wild yam, they decided to do more research. It is the hormone from these yams, with the addition of estrogen, which eventually led to the first birth control pill.
The ABCs of IUDs
(and other internal devices)
The museum has more than 350 IUDs. Many look like something straight out of a tackle box. Your great-grandfather’s tackle box.
Other devices resemble trilobites, dental tools, pen springs, plastic model parts and a smaller and harsher version of those "WWJD" bracelets, without the lettering.
Tiny plastic, copper and stainless steel devices from the 1940s and ’50s rest in the display cases. We watched an elderly woman visitor examine something called the "FD-1 with Inserter," and she winced. It was the same wince you see when a man witnesses a fellow man get hit in the testicles by, say, a bowling ball.
There are plenty of wishbone gadgets and spring-loaded contraptions. There is a display documenting the evolution of the intrauterine bow. There is something called the "Silent IUD with 24-kt. Gold Binding."
Animal dung, especially crocodile and elephant, was popular as a spermicidal jelly in India and Egypt 3,000 years ago. Here, you can see a small vial of dung.
Then comes the Wall of Caps: Vault caps and Dumas caps and cervical caps. Casanova, the Wilt Chamberlain of the 1700s, had his women place half a lemon over their cervix as an old-style, and sour, cervical cap.
And, speaking of fresh-squeezed lemonade, don’t let that juice glass go to waste. In 1962, according to a museum placard, a woman arrived at a Toronto hospital complaining of vaginal pain. When doctors examined her, they found a broken drinking glass "embedded in her vaginal wall." The glass, she explained, was her idea for a diaphragm. She’d been using it, successfully, for three years.
Condoms (or Snickers really satisfies)
For centuries, men have fashioned condoms out of animal skin and intestines. Okra pods have also been used. In addition to a few turn-of-the-century sheep intestine condoms, the museum houses no fewer than a half-dozen of the giant and disturbingly Slinky-like female condoms.
Also on display is the Bikini Condom, described as "the condom worn (like a stretchable rubber bikini) by women."
Visitors will encounter a heavy-duty male reusable condom called the "Washable Sheath."
In the 1960s, free love (or love at just pennies per foot) took place with the penis in question protected, clingingly, by cellophane (possibly the brand-specific Handi-Wrap, produced right here in Michigan!).
One exhibit features two examples of candy bar wrappers used as condoms, including Cadbury Crunchie (golden honeycomb covered in chocolate) and the eerily similar, ingredient-wise, Violet Crumble, described also as "crisp golden honeycomb," although with "percent more free." Apparently, these candy bar condoms are, even today, all the rage with Australian teens.
Rabbit’s foot? A rabbit’s anus, more like. The superstitious women of the Middle Ages believed magic amulets would prevent pregnancy. Some — and all this is in the museum — assumed that wearing the anus of a hare would ward off those evil semen spirits.
Another known talisman was the ear wax of a mule, which is actually on display in the museum, complete with tiny black hairs protruding from the ear wax.
Weasel testicles were also a popular lucky charm for the Medieval females. These charms were less popular, though, among the male weasel population.
So now you’re ready for some (hopefully safe) and steamy "oldschool" action, as you strut into your girlfriend’s (or wife’s) bedroom, wearing a mule’s hairy ear wax bracelet, chewing dried beaver testicles, carrying half a lemon and a juice glass. Your penis is covered in a candy wrapper. A rabbit’s anus hangs around your neck.
Science will tell you that these old contraceptives are based on myth and folklore. Science will also tell you these old time contraceptives, for the most part, just don’t work. But while the statistical sample may be limited, science, in this case, is wrong. Because, tonight, there is no way anyone will be getting pregnant. Not after she makes you shower in the guest bathroom before she sends you to sleep, alone, on the couch.
The History of Contraception Museum is located inside Ortho-McNeil Inc., 19 Green Belt Drive, Don Mills, Ontario. It is open, generally, during regular business hours. Call 416-449-9444 for more information or to set up an appointment. Admission is free. And — we shouldn’t have to say it — don’t try any of this at home.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at [email protected].
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.