Womb Veils, Foams, and Other Contraceptives

Contraceptive Efficacy Chart, circa 1980

Doctor's Office Contraceptive Efficacy Chart, Circa 1980

Womb Veils, Foams, and Other Conceptives

Though condoms soon became the most accessible and inexpensive form of reliable birth control, many other contraceptive methods continued to vie for popularity. As the sole male-controlled contraceptive, mid-century latex condoms left prevention of pregnancy in the hands (and pockets) of men. Women often preferred to maintain control of their own reproductive lives, to the extent they were able. 

For ease, efficacy and convenience, the oral contraceptive overtook other female-controlled methods by the 1980s, after years of legal battles to ensure the pill's safety and availability. Before the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive in 1960, a host of devices and products offered women the possibility of sexual intercourse without the fear of unplanned pregnancies. However, many of these methods required medical examination and a male doctor's prescription, were expensive difficult to use correctly, and came with detrimental side effects. 

Emko Foam Ad

Emko Foam Contraceptive ad Modern Screen magazine, March 1965


Emko, a surfactant spermicide, was used by itself to prevent pregnancy, or, much more effectively, together with a cervical barrier such as a sponge or diaphragm. Spermicides are not effective immediately and must be inserted sometime before sex--but also not too prematurely. Foam spermicides lose efficacy an hour after insertion and do not provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases. 

Foam spermicides such as Emko retained their popularity after the introduction of the contraceptive pill, as part of a popular regime of non-hormonal woman-controlled birth control. By the 1970s, a wide variety of birth control options were available--to married couples. In some states, unmarried women still had legal obstacles to obtaining contraceptives. The 1972 Supreme Court case Eisenstadt v. Baird saw the case convicting William Baird under a Massachusetts State law for exhibiting contraceptive articles and for giving a woman a package of Emko vaginal foam. The court found that dissimilar treatment of similarly situated married and unmarried persons under the Massachusetts law violated the Equal Protection Clause. For the first time, birth control was ruled legal for all adult women to obtain. 

Citations and Further Readings:

Peter C. Engelman, A History of the Birth Control Movement in America (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011)

Andrea Tone, Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America (New York; Hill and Wang, 2001).

Womb Veils, Foams, and Other Contraceptives