Birth control in one form or another has been around since the beginning of time..
Birth control through chemical means exists among plants and primitive animals. The gorillas exercise violent population control: When the tribe is taken over by a new by a new silver back. He kills all the children of his predecessor and even beats pregnant females to induce miscarriage. This is true of chimpanzees, too.
Probably the oldest methods of contraception (aside from sexual abstinence) are coitus interruptus, certain barrier methods, and herbal methods and (abortifacients).
Coitus Interruptus (withdrawal of the penis from the vagina prior to ejaculation) probably predates any other form of birth control. Once the relationship between the emission of semen into the vagina and pregnancy was known or suspected, some men began to use this technique. This is not a particularly reliable method of contraception, as few men have the self-control to correctly practice the method at every single act of sexual intercourse. Although it is commonly believed that pre-ejaculate fluid can cause pregnancy, modern research has shown that pre-ejaculate fluid does not contain viable sperm.
Humans have been practicing chemical birth control for at least 4000 years, probably much longer. In the Book of Jasher (written about 1200 BC and referring to a period several thousand years previous) it says:
And some of the sons of men caused their wives to drink a draught that would render them barren, in order that they might retain their figures and whereby their beautiful appearance might not fade. And when the sons of men caused some of their wives to drink, Zillah drank with them. And the child-bearing women appeared abominable in the sight of their husbands, as widows, for to the barren ones only were they attached. (Book of Jasher 2:20-22) see also Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18 and Genesis 4:19
There are historic records of Egyptian women using a pessary (a vaginal suppository) made of various acidic substances (crocodile dung is alleged) and lubricated with honey or oil, which may have been somewhat effective at killing sperm. However, it is important to note that the sperm cell was not discovered until Anton van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope in the late 17th century, so barrier methods employed prior to that time could not know of the details of conception. Asian women may have used oiled paper as a cervical cap, and Europeans may have used beeswax for this purpose. The condom appeared sometime in the 17th century, initially made of a length of animal intestine. It was not particularly popular, nor as effective as modern latex condoms, but was employed both as a means of contraception and in the hopes of avoiding syphilis, which was greatly feared and devastating prior to the discovery of antibiotic drugs.
Various abortifacients have been used throughout human history, although many do not associate induced abortion with the term "birth control". Some of them were effective, some were not; those that were most effective also had major side effects. One abortifacient reported to have low levels of side effects — silphium — was harvested to extinction around the 1st century. The ingestion of certain poisons by the female can disrupt the reproductive system; women have drunk solutions containing mercury, arsenic, or other toxic substances for this purpose. The Greek gynaecologist Soranus in the 2nd century suggested that women drink water that blacksmiths had used to cool metal. The herbs tansy and pennyroyal are well-known in folklore as abortive agents, but these also "work" by poisoning the woman. Levels of the active chemicals in these herbs that will induce a miscarriage are high enough to damage the liver, kidneys, and other organs, making them very dangerous. However, in those times where risk of maternal death from postpartum complications was high, the risks and side effects of toxic medicines may have seemed less onerous. Some herbalists claim that black cohosh tea will also be effective in certain cases as an abortifacient.
The fact that various effective methods of birth control were known in the ancient world sharply contrasts with a seeming ignorance of these methods in wide segments of the population of early modern Christian Europe. This ignorance continued far into the 20th century, and was paralleled by eminently high birth rates in European countries during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some historians have attributed this to a series of coercive measures enacted by the emerging modern state, in an effort to repopulate Europe after the population catastrophe of the Black Death, starting in 1348. According to this view, the witch hunts were the first measure the modern state took in an attempt to eliminate knowledge about birth control within the population, and monopolize it in the hands of state-employed male medical specialists (gynecologists). Prior to the witch hunts, male specialists were unheard of, because birth control was naturally a female domain.
Casanova often gave a small ball of gold to his conquests, telling them to place it in their uterus to prevent pregnancy. The first modern interuterine devices (which occupied both the vagina and the uterus) were first marketed around 1900. The first modern intrauterine device (contained entirely in the uterus) was described in a German publication in 1909, although the author appears to have never marketed his product.
The Rhythm Method (with a rather high method failure rate of ten percent per year) was developed in the early 20th century, as researchers discovered that a woman only ovulates once per menstrual cycle. Not until the 1950s, when scientists better understood the functioning of the menstrual cycle and the hormones that controlled it, were oral contraceptives and modern methods of fertility awareness (also called natural family planning) developed.