TORONTO (AFP) - Many thought preventing pregnancy was a modern-day desire after the pill's introduction in the 1960s, but a museum here explores how crocodile dung, lemons and weasel testicles were once among the contraceptives used thousands of years ago.
Some of the more than 600 condoms, sponges, cervical caps and other devices on display at The History of Contraception Museum here -- the world's biggest collection of contraceptive devices -- were completely ineffective, while others were simply dangerous or lethal.
But a few proved to be somewhat effective and showed the sheer inventiveness of people, said Petra Goodhead, the museum's communications coordinator.
The desire to avoid pregnancy dates back thousands of years -- such as the reference in the Bible's Book of Genesis to Onan's use of coitus interruptus.
One of the first-ever written prescriptions for a contraceptive device is a 1550 BC papyrus sheet from Egypt on display, which describes a tampon made of seed wool moistened with ground acacia, dates and honey.
Despite its primitiveness, the tampon worked in part because acacia ferments into lactic acid, an ingredient in today's spermicides.
Three thousand years ago in India and Egypt, dung from animals thought to possess mystical powers -- such as crocodiles and elephants -- were inserted into the woman's vagina prior to intercourse to prevent pregnancies.
While the smell may have crushed the mood, the dung actually acted as a crude blocking agent and its high acidity was thought to provide some spermicidal reaction, the museum noted.
Superstitions also played a major role in trying to ward off pregnancy in the Middle Ages, but many were ineffective.
Women strapped amulets containing mule's earwax, weasel's testicles and a bone taken from the right side of a totally black cat to body parts to avoid pregnancy.
"If one takes the two testicles of a weasel and wraps them up, binding them to the thigh of a woman who wears also a weasel bone on her person, she will no longer conceive," reads one passage among the museum's 11 display cases, which include authentic contraceptive items.
The collection, gathered by former president of Ortho Pharmaceutical and present curator Percy Skuy, includes condoms made of sheep's intestine, a 14-karat gold intracervical device, some 350 intrauterine devices and natural sea sponges that had been dipped in acidic solutions.
Half of a lemon, for instance, was reportedly advocated by Casanova in the mid-1700s for use by women as a cervical cap-like device.
Even with the pulp extracted, "the occlusive nature of the lemon and or citric acidity may have provided efficacy," the museum said.
More dangerous contraceptives included the drinking of lead and mercury by Chinese women thousands of years ago, which often led to sterility or death.
The use of a six-sided wooden block - known as a pessary -- as a barrier in the vagina was later condemned as an "instrument of torture" in the 1930s.
The museum also outlines contraceptives used presently in China and futuristic contraceptive methods, including a contraceptive nasal spray.
Modern day contraceptive oddities, such as candy wrappers (used by Australian boys as condoms in the early 1990s), plastic wrap and a teapot top used for a diaphragm, are also included.
The museum, opened in 1966 and located in the northern Toronto headquarters of birth control pill manufacturer Janssen-Ortho, contains no brand name products, except for a few decades-old condom packages, including one labeled "Anti-baby condom."
The collection has traveled to Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Singapore, Spain and Switzerland and may travel to Britain next year.
Hum this should be an interesting museum tour. YIKES on some of the b/c methods. IF anyone goes from up there please take photos.. if possible.