Population: The Last Taboo

Masters of the Uterus

The 3,500-year battle over where babies do—and don't—come from.

c. 1500 BC Genesis describes how God kills Onan after he "wasted his seed on the ground" during coitus interruptus. (See "Thou Shalt Not Spill.")

c. 1500 BC Egyptian experts suggest mixing ground dates, acacia bark, and honey as a spermicide and crocodile dung as an anti-pregnancy suppository.

100 Greek gynecologist Soranus recommends that women hold their breath and jump backward seven times after sex to prevent pregnancy. Sneezing also advised.

c. 700 Muhammad endorses withdrawal during sex.

Black Cat

1000 Contraception gets medieval: European women wear bones from the right sides of black cats around their necks to avoid pregnancy.

1554 John Calvin calls masturbation "monstrous" and withdrawal "doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring."

1727 In "Conjugal Lewdness: or, Matrimonial Whoredom," Daniel Defoe compares contraception to infanticide.

Casanova inflating a condom

1789 In his memoirs, Casanova (inflating a condom, right) describes prophylactics known as "English riding coats" and a lemon-rind diaphragm.

1798 The Reverend Thomas Malthus advocates the "temporary unhappiness" of abstinence to slow down population growth.

1832 Dr. Charles Knowlton is arrested in Massachusetts for publishing information about contraception. His defense: "Mankind ought not to abstain."

Goodyear Blimp

1839 Barrier-method contraceptives like condoms and diaphragms are revolutionized by Charles Goodyear's invention of vulcanized rubber.

1861 First condom ad (for Dr. Powers' French Preventative) in the New York Times: "Those who have used them are never without them."

Pope Pius IX

1869 Pope Pius IX (right) bans abortion, saying the soul is born at conception.

1870s Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other feminists promote "voluntary motherhood," advocating abstinence as the best form of birth control.

1873 Postal inspector Anthony Comstock crusades against "obscenity" such as birth control. The Comstock Act, which prohibits mailing contraceptives or information about them, remains in effect until 1965.

Margaret Sanger

1914 Margaret Sanger's pro-contraception tract The Woman Rebel is banned as obscene under the Comstock Act. Sanger (left) coins the term "birth control" later that year. In the 1930s, she becomes a eugenicist.

1917-18 18,000 STD-ridden doughboys take sick; US military distributes condoms.

1920s Contraceptives sold as "feminine hygiene" products. Douching with Lysol promoted as a way "to help protect your married happiness."

1930 Anglican Church becomes the first to approve of birth control that is "in the light of Christian principles." Six months later, Pope Pius XI deems birth control a "grave sin."

1933 Nazi Germany outlaws abortion and bans contraceptive ads. 400,000 Germans labeled "inferior" undergo forced sterilization.

1936 A federal appeals court rules that doctors can send contraceptives through the mail.

1937 The American Medical Association recognizes birth control as a legitimate part of a doctor's practice.

1942 US Navy training film USS VD: Ship of Shame urges sailors to "put it on before you put it in."

1952 John D. Rockefeller III, father of four, founds the Population Council: "Our concern is for the quality of human life, not the quantity of human life."

1959 President Eisenhower says promoting birth control "is not a proper political or governmental activity." He changes his mind 9 years later: "Governments must act...Failure would limit the expectations of future generations to abject poverty and suffering."

1960 30 states still prohibit or restrict the sale and advertisement of contraceptives under the Comstock Act.

The Pill

1960 FDA approves the pill.

1965 The Supreme Court rules in Griswold v. Connecticut that contraceptive bans violate the "right to marital privacy." Unmarried peoples' right to privacy isn't recognized until 1972.

1966 Papal commission on birth control votes to allow contraception, but Pope Paul VI keeps ban in place.

Black Power

1967 Black Power Conference denounces the birth control pill as "black genocide."

1973 Contraceptive use in the US peaks, with 70% of married women 15 to 44 using some form.

1973 Building off privacy right affirmed by Griswold, Roe v. Wade legalizes abortion. Helms Amendment (still in effect) bans US funding of abortion abroad.

1973 An FDA committee recommends Depo Provera be approved; Vatican lobbies against it. It's not okayed until 1992.

1974 The Dalkon Shield IUD is found to be toxic. MoJo uncovers how usaid dumped unsterilized Dalkons on developing countries.

1974 Henry Kissinger advocates restricting food aid to poor nations to curb their growth.

1975 Esquire endorses the spermicidal effects of jockstraps.

1975 Loretta Lynn's "The Pill" is a country hit: "This incubator is overused / Because you've kept it filled / The feelin' good comes easy now / Since I've got the pill."

1976 Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi forces millions of poor men to be sterilized.

1979 China introduces its "one child" policy, leading to compulsory birth control and abortions.

1986 President Reagan rejects Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's recommendations for a massive condom PR push and the expansion of sex ed.

1988 To repent for taking the pill, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar "asked God to bless them with as many children as he saw fit." They now have 19.

1988 China is the first country to license mifepristone as an abortion pill. In 2000, the FDA approves it as RU-486.

1991 Ten days after Magic Johnson says he has HIV, Fox airs the nation's first condom ad.

1993 Female condom fails to catch on, in part because it's too noisy. Quieter version released in 2009.

1993 The Netherlands requires sex ed and promotes going "Double Dutch"—using both the pill and condoms.

1994 Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders gets flack for pushing family planning.

Julia Luis-Dreyfuss & the Sponge

1995 Today Sponge is discontinued. "Spongeworthy" Seinfeld episode airs.

1999 FDA approves prescription emergency contraceptive Plan B.

Kiss Condoms

2002 The rock group Kiss unveils its own line of condoms, including Tongue Lubricated and Love Gun Protection.

2004 FDA rejects over-the-counter status for Plan B. Approval takes nearly 3 more years.

2006 Australian treasurer tries to revive flagging birth rates with the slogan "One for mum, one for dad, one for the country."

2007 Fox rejects Trojan ad featuring singing pigs (below), saying that "contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy."

2008 Federal funding for abstinence-only sex ed hits $214 million. Teen pregnancy rate rises after a 15-year decline.

2009 President Bush enacts regulation that lets pharmacists decline to sell birth control.

2009 Stimulus plan includes money for family planning. Rush Limbaugh quips, "Put pictures of Pelosi in every cheap motel room in America today—that will keep birth rates down."

2009 The Austrian co-inventor of the pill, Carl Djerassi, laments low birth rates caused by childless Europeans who want "to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it."

2010 100,000 condoms handed out to Olympians in Vancouver run out in less than two weeks; a last-minute shipment provides additional coverage.

For a related slideshow click here.

Photos & Images: Cat: Martin Garnham/istockphoto.com; Blimp: Courtesy Autochannel; Casanova, Pope Pius IX, Sanger: Library of Congress; Pills: Beathan/Corbis; Black Power: Courtesy libcom.org; Kiss condoms: Courtesy Kiss.com; Trojan ad: Courtesy Trojan; Elaine: TBS; Sponge: Dittrick Museum of Medical History

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.