A date, acacia, and honey concoction
The Ebers Papyrus, written in 1550 BCE, includes a recipe for a natural spermicide using dates, acacia, and honey. Egyptian women would mash the ingredients together until they formed a paste. This was smeared over a ball of wool, which would then be shoved up the vagina like a sperm-killing tampon.
The date, acacia, and honey method was probably more effective than we give it credit for. The acacia shrub contains a substance called gum arabic, which ferments to produce lactic acid – something that is still found in spermicides today.
Crocodile and elephant dung
Some ancient Egyptian women resorted to a less appealing choice of birth control: a paste made from dried crocodile dung and honey. These DIY pessaries were inserted into the women’s hoo-ha so they could enjoy sex without the burden of unwanted pregnancy. The idea being that the dung would soften and block any incoming sperm.
Similar methods were used in India, only using the excrements of elephants. In other parts of the world, women have used vegetable seedpods, bundles of seaweed, moss, and bamboo, clumps of grass and crushed root, and balls of opium.
If you thought these downright bizarre contraceptive methods were all in the past and the 20th century was one of reason, enlightenment, and science, you would be sadly mistaken.
As recently as the fifties and sixties, women were douching themselves with Coca-Cola after sex. Not only does it make for a terrible spermicide – in fact, some scientists reckon douching, if anything, pushes sperm further upstream – pouring sugary soda into your vagina is a great way to get yourself a yeast or bacterial infection.
Soranus was an unfortunately named Greek gynecologist who attended to the women of ancient Rome. He was a strong advocate of the sneezing method, which basically involved the woman holding her breath during ejaculation "so that the seed may not be hurled too deep into the cavity of the uterus," getting up after, and immediately sneezing to dispel any pesky sperm that might still be lurking. Safe to say, this is even less effective than the withdrawal method.
Some of Soranus' other questionable recommendations included a spermicide made from fresh pomegranate peel and water and olive oil injections to induce an abortion (that's if exercising vigorously didn't do the job first).