Unsafe, unreliable: Dangerous pregnancy-prevention methods
  • Fifty years ago, family planning was recognized as a human right. Yet safe and reliable forms of contraception are still out of reach for hundreds of millions of people. In desperation, many resort to ineffective or even dangerous methods, often based on
  • Vinegar Many people try to prevent pregnancy by inserting or ingesting harmful chemicals. Health workers in the Republic of Moldova, Syria and Uzbekistan say some women apply vinegar to the vagina, either before or after intercourse. While many reported c
  • Soap and water Many women wash or douche with soap and water after sex in an attempt to prevent pregnancy. “They hope it will wash the sperm away, but sperm reaches the uterus before women have a chance to rinse it out,” said Dr. Su Sandy of Population Se
  • Laundry soap Soaps have also been used in other ways. Health workers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia say that, a few decades ago, some women would insert a piece of laundry soap into the vagina before intercourse, hoping the alkalinity would kill sper
  • Disinfectant People also use disinfectants to try to kill sperm, using these chemicals as a douche or applying them to the external genitalia. Disinfectants can cause chemical burns, skin irritation and, if introduced into the uterus, even sepsis and dea
  • Milk and iodine In Kyrgyzstan, women have been known to drink milk and iodine after sex to prevent pregnancy. While mainly observed in the 1980s and 1990s, this method may still be used in remote areas. Iodine solution is toxic and can cause inflammation,
  • Coca-Cola In some places, Coca-Cola is believed to have contraceptive properties. In Angola, young people have been known to drink Coca-Cola with two or more aspirin after intercourse. “I tried this a long time ago, when I was a teenager,” one older woma
  • Alcohol A type of fruit brandy called Rakija was used as a vaginal wash in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s, but possibly continuing today. The high alcohol content “could cause vaginal dryness and dyspareunia [painful interc
  • Alum In several countries, reproductive health experts reported that, a few decades ago, alum was used as a vaginal suppository to prevent pregnancy. This can cause irritation, dysbacteriosis – or harmful microbial imbalance – and increased risk of infect
  • Lemon slices In several countries, health workers reported that women put lemon slices or lemon juice into the vagina after sex. This can cause irritation, dysbacteriosis and other problems. “I was surprised, not to say shocked, when I found out that one
  • Turmeric Many people rely on herbs, which are often useless in preventing pregnancy. Older couples in western Nepal reported using turmeric in water as a contraceptive. One man told UNFPA he and his wife used this method after his first two children were
  • Ginger In some places, ginger is incorrectly believed to have contraceptive properties. In the 1990s in parts of Panama, some women believed the spiciness of ginger tea could affect the menstrual cycle. Some in Cambodia drank a mixture of galangal – a gi
  • Mango seed The conflict in Yemen has cut off access to reliable contraceptives. “Some communities are prohibited from utilizing modern family planning methods,” said Eltaf, a Yemeni midwife. “Women are now going back to secretly using traditional methods
  • Assorted herbs In Viet Nam, traditional herbs were often used to prevent pregnancy. But these can contain chemicals or heavy metals, or have harmful interactions with other medications. In Madagascar, neem oil or tea is sometimes used, but “no exact dosag
  • Plastic bags And many people resort to ineffective – even damaging – barrier methods. Around the world, people have reported using plastic bags as an alternative to condoms. These have a high risk of breakage. In Sri Lanka, people have used shopping bags.
  • Freezer pop wrapper The wrappers of freezer pops, also called ice pops, have also been used “as a replacement to condoms,” said Nikoli Edwards, of Trinidad and Tobago, at a forum on improving adolescent health. These wrappers can cause pain, tearing and a
  • Balloons In some places, including Sri Lanka, people use balloons instead of condoms. Balloons are not hypoallergenic and can cause rashes or infections. They also have a high risk of breakage. “Balloons are not comparable to condoms,” said Dr. Senanayake
  • Two condoms People also layer two condoms, one on top of the other – either two male condoms or a male and a female condom. “Perhaps it was a misunderstanding about what double protection means. Double protection means the use of a modern method – pills,
  • Kitchen sponges People also resort to using kitchen sponges. In Tajikistan, one sex worker told UNFPA that it is common among women in her trade to insert small pieces of sponge into the vagina before sex, believing it prevents pregnancy. But sponges do n
  • Extended breastfeeding People also engage in folk practices. Many women rely on extended breastfeeding to prevent pregnancy. Although exclusive breastfeeding can provide temporary contraception under the right circumstances, this method is not reliable fo
  • Jumping The belief that jumping after intercourse can prevent pregnancy is widespread – but has no medical basis. A health expert in Tajikistan reported that at least one sex worker encourages others to use this method. In Palawan, an island in the Philip
  • Uterine massage In Myanmar, traditional birth attendants perform a kind of abdominal massage, believing it alters the position of the uterus, blocking the passage of sperm. “It is still a common way to prevent pregnancy,” said Daw Nwet, a birth attendant
  • Charms or prayers People also rely on charms or prayers to prevent pregnancy. A reproductive health expert in Malawi said that several decades ago, women applied traditional medicines to a knotted rope, which they would wear around the waist. Each knot re
  • There is no need to resort to these methods. There are many highly effective modern contraceptive methods – including condoms, oral contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices and others. Around the world, UNFPA is working to increase access to these reliab