Contraception Then and Now

When it comes to contraception, one thing is for sure: We’ve come a long way! And while the future might have even better things in store, like reversible male birth control, superior condoms, or remote-controlled implants, a look into the past reveals that modern contraceptors have a bevy of fantastic options to choose from. Unlike couples who had to forgo contraception or obtain birth control from the black market, nowadays Americans wishing to prevent or postpone pregnancy can select from a variety of legal, effective, and increasingly accessible family-planning methods.


While the history of birth control is fascinating, today’s contraception is the very best.


Let’s look at some old-fashioned birth-control methods and see how they stack up to their modern-day counterparts.

Linen and Guts vs. Latex and Polyurethane Condoms

Most people think of female condoms as new inventions, but the first condom recorded in history was made out of a goat’s bladder and inserted into the vagina — way back in 3000 BC. Ancient civilizations, from the Romans to the Egyptians to the Japanese, made penile sheaths and caps with a variety of materials, including linen, leather, lubricated silk paper, intestines, and tortoise shells. Linen and intestines remained popular through the Renaissance era.

A condom, with a user manual, from 1813. Photo: Matthias Kabel

A condom, with user manual, 1813. Photo: Matthias Kabel

Charles Goodyear might be most famous for tires, but his discoveries in vulcanizing rubber also led to the development of rubber condoms in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, the Comstock Act of 1873 outlawed the manufacture and sale of contraception, and condoms were driven into a shadow economy. In the 1880s, New Yorkers might have been lucky to find black-market condoms made from surplus animal intestines, which were manufactured by Julius Schmid, a German immigrant who otherwise specialized in sausage casings — before his business was shut down by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Condoms weren’t legal in the United States until the Crane ruling of 1918, just in time for the 1920 invention of latex, a form of rubber that was much stronger and more elastic — and with a shelf life of five years vs. rubber’s three months. By the 1920s, Schmid was once again on top of the condom game, peddling brands like Sheik, Ramses, and Sphinx.

Condoms made out of intestines are still on the market, sold as lambskin or “natural” condoms. However, they are not recommended for STD protection: Just as intestines need to allow nutrients to enter the body from digesting food, so too are viruses able to pass through condoms made from intestines. (Sperm, on the other hand, are thought to be too big.) These days, latex is the gold-standard material for condoms, while polyurethane can be used by people with latex allergies. Condoms constructed with these modern materials protect users from unintended pregnancy as well as many sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV and chlamydia. Continue reading

Roe v. Wade: Texas Then and Now

“Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court: It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.”

Supreme Court, 1973

Supreme Court, 1973

Thus Jay Floyd, Texas assistant attorney general, opened his December 1971 oral argument in Roe v. Wade, as his adversary attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee sat nearby (no doubt dumbfounded) after Weddington had presented their argument for women’s abortion rights.

Wisely, the Texas reargument in 1972 opened with no attempt at humor. (When Roe was first argued, the Supreme Court consisted of only seven justices. Because the decision would be so historic, the Supreme Court decided to hear arguments a second time when all nine justices were in place the following year.) Then, on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided that a woman’s right to an abortion was constitutionally protected and the 1854 Texas law at issue was struck down, along with abortion laws in 45 other states. (The Texas gentleman was right: The Texas ladies did have the last word.)


What will the Supreme Court bring us this year? “Don’t Mess with Texas” or “Don’t Mess with Women”?


So, as we approach the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade this Friday, let’s mosey down memory lane. How did we get to that landmark decision, and where might we be going this year with a new Texas case testing abortion rights, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole?

Throughout history, abortion has been a common practice. At the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, abortion was legal in all states. Prior to the mid-1800s legal scholars were not proposing abortion laws, nor advocating “personhood” of an unborn child, nor asserting abortion control on medical safety or any other grounds. Continue reading

Will St. John’s Wort Affect Birth Control?

st-johns-wortHerbal remedies are very popular around the world. Many people prefer them to pharmaceuticals because they believe herbs can elicit positive results without serious side effects. However, plants produce a wide variety of chemicals at varying concentrations, and might have a number of effects on your body, both good and bad. Furthermore, since herbal supplements are not evaluated by the FDA for safety or effectiveness, consumers often don’t have ready access to evidence about herbal products. We can’t even be sure that they contain the ingredients that are listed on the label!


St. John’s wort might decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills, and might be unsafe during pregnancy.


One popular herb is St. John’s wort, or Hypericum perforatum. While the scientific evidence is mixed at best, many people believe that St. John’s wort can be used as an antidepressant. However, people often treat themselves with herbal supplements without guidance from a medical doctor or pharmacist — and without knowing whether or not these herbs are safe to use with any medications they might be taking.

Over the millennia, plants have evolved all sorts of powerful chemicals, such as toxins, to defend themselves against insects and other predators. For this reason, we can’t assume that plants only contain inert chemicals that won’t affect us or interact with the chemicals in other drugs and supplements we use. St. John’s wort, in fact, contains chemicals that interfere with other medications. It has been banned in France, and other countries require or are considering warning labels on St. John’s wort products so consumers can be aware of possible drug interactions. Continue reading

Party Prepared This New Year’s Eve

The following guest post was written by Catherine Crook, who is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and interning at Planned Parenthood Arizona in the communications and marketing department.

Party PreparedNew Year’s Eve is one of the most anticipated, libidinous party nights. In celebration of relinquishing the past and vows to new beginnings, people all over the world clink glasses and exchange affection when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

In the United States, about half of all pregnancies are unintended, and each year there are 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). By age 24 close to 50 percent of sexually active young people will get an STD. Adding alcohol to the mix doesn’t make things any better; individuals are seven times more likely to have unprotected sex when they are under the influence of alcohol.

As the largest provider of sexual health care in Arizona, we want to help you make healthy choices this New Year’s Eve by reminding you to Party Prepared — whether that means carrying a condom or designating a driver.

This New Year’s Eve, Planned Parenthood is distributing 15,000 free condoms to local bars, restaurants, and clubs throughout Arizona. So, if you are going out this New Year’s Eve, stop by one of our campaign partners. You can find the full list here.

Condoms are not the only way to Party Prepared. Another way to make sure you are off to the best start in the New Year is to have emergency contraception on hand. Condoms can break, and sometimes, even with the best of intentions, they can be forgotten.

One party can change your life forever, so let’s make New Year’s Eve a night you never want to forget! Start 2015 healthy, safe, and ready for new beginnings.

We wish you a safe, happy holiday season!

P.S. If you need a primer on how to put a condom on correctly, we have you covered. Check out this video.

2014: A Rundown Retrospective

2014 was a pretty not-so-stellar year in reproductive rights, if we’re being honest.

But hold your chin up. All did not suck!

While we’re never sure what new, exciting, or horrible fates await us at the dawn of a new year, rest assured that we’ll be here covering the news that matters most with regard to reproductive and sexual health, politics, gender issues, and reproductive justice well into 2015 and beyond.

Contraception in the Zombie Apocalypse

The zombie hoard approaches. Photo: Caio Schiavo

The zombie horde approaches. Photo: Caio Schiavo

If you’ve watched a zombie movie with your friends, you’ve probably talked about what kinds of weapons you’d be packing in case of a zombie apocalypse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even has a list of supplies you’ll need for a zombie preparedness kit, which includes smart choices like water, duct tape, and bleach. (I would add toilet paper to that list. How you’ll miss it when you’re on the run!) But how many of you have discussed birth control?


You’ve probably picked out which weapons to use during the zombie apocalypse. But have you chosen a birth control method?


Even if your greatest dream is to have a baby, you must admit that the zombie apocalypse is the worst time to be pregnant, give birth, and raise a child. Fleeing and hand-to-hand combat can be a drag while pregnant, and childbirth can kill you, especially without access to trained personnel or hygienic supplies. And if you do manage to birth a baby into this cruel new world, diapers can distract from more pressing duties, and the infant’s cries can attract undead attention.

When you’re in hardcore fight-or-flight mode, taking a pill at the same time every day might be difficult, and besides, a supply of pills can take up valuable backpack real estate. Plus, even if you find an abandoned pharmacy to raid, birth control pills and condoms come with expiration dates and can be affected by high temperatures. The same goes for contraceptive patches and rings. For these reasons, you need a contraceptive method that’s well suited to the zombie apocalypse. Besides abstinence, what are your options? Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Plan BBring out the balloons, champagne flutes, and noisemakers. Look what the cat is dragging in come 2017: MALE BIRTH CONTROL NOT IN THE FORM OF A CONDOM! (The Daily Beast)
  • Are men treated differently than women when buying emergency contraception? (New York Daily News)
  • Overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto, Republican lawmakers in Missouri have forced a 72-hour waiting period for abortions into law. They now join South Dakota and Utah as having the longest waiting periods in the United States. Additionally, there are no exceptions for victims of incest or rape. (USA Today)
  • Texas gubernatorial candidate, Wendy Davis, bravely shares her personal abortion story. (Cosmopolitan)
  • Crowdfunding platform, GoFundMe, has banned all fundraisers and content related to abortion. What other safe, legal medical procedures have they banned fundraisers for, you ask? None that we know of. (Salon)
  • Is there any facet of the anti-choice movement that isn’t hypocritical? The corporations opposing the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act mostly do not offer any parental leave to help you out with the baby they want you to have no choice but to conceive. (RH Reality Check)
  • Republicans have seemingly done an about-face on birth control, and have been talking an awful lot lately about the Pill being made available over the counter. Please don’t be fooled. They want the entire cost burden to be on the individual woman rather than covered by insurance. I’m trying to think of any other preventive medications they feel this way about off the top of my head, but for some reason I’m drawing a big ol’ blank! (Time)
  • Bustle has an interesting piece on the most restrictive abortion laws in America and, as you may have guessed, it’s really quite painstaking to get an abortion anywhere in this country. (Bustle)
  • Vaginas are magic and powerful vessels and now their contents can make medicine! (Nature)