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In a post-industrial collapse scenario, what would be the most effective methods for contraception? Situation is a small scale civilisation with limited access to industrial materials and tooling but have solid understanding of science and anatomy.

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    $\begingroup$ People have used contraception since the dawn of civilization. The rhythm method, diaphragms and (crude) spermicides come to mind. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 19 '17 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ The most effective would be full abstinence. Everything else is unreliable (even modern birth control methods, i.e. pills, condoms, and IUDs, are not 100%). You can try to look into copper IUDs, though. Copper is toxic to sperm with effectiveness rates about 99%. It looks like copper IUDs are not that hard to manufacture. Although, you will need to train some medics in insertion and monitoring. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 19 '17 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ Abstinence ist actually one of the least reliable methods... $\endgroup$ – ths Sep 19 '17 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ @ths this is true. My gf and were completely abstinent and she managed to get pregnant. $\endgroup$ – yitzih Sep 20 '17 at 1:46
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    $\begingroup$ Pulling out has like a 99% success rate which might be good enough for post apocalypse circumstances. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Sep 20 '17 at 16:25

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Let's go through the state of the art contraceptives:

  • Condoms: to have latex you need access to tropical region where the suitable plant grows. Not an easy task for a post apocalyptic scenario. Same holds for polyurethane based condoms: getting the chemicals and the plants to run production is highly unlikely. Mind that in the past condoms were made using silk or animal guts, but they were obviously way less effective.
  • Pills: again, running a chemical plant is highly unlikely in a post apocalyptic scenario.
  • Diaphragms, spirals: getting the raw material and the processing plants is again the main issue.
  • Surgical: stitching to aseptic standards and lack of painkillers/narcotics can be the limiting issue, together with the non reversibility.
  • Natural method (abstinence during fertile days): this can be enforced by religious taboos, and it is probably going to be the most effective.

Bottom line: in a post apocalyptic scenario what you lack in technology you can partially cover with numbers (if you have no Caterpillar to move a hill, you can have 100 humans do the job). why would you even aim for birth control?

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    $\begingroup$ The real "why" is because writing for YA target so feel I should be socially responsible. Story world "why" is limited agricultural production and need for youngsters to serve in militia. $\endgroup$ – Bert Olio Sep 19 '17 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ @BertOlio, from an historical perspective birth control is a luxury for developed countries. Social responsibility for pre industrial countries requires you to multiplicate like rabbits, to cover juvenile deaths. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 19 '17 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch: Reality is always more complicated than simplified models. You may want to look at actual examples; it may surprise you to find out that many settled and prosperous pre-industrial communities, from England to China and from the Antiquity to the modern times, practiced ruthless family planning (sometimes using quite grisly methods) in order to avoid land and wealth fragmentation. Not all pre industrial countries were similar to modern Nigeria... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 19 '17 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Unless I'm mistaken the examples you're referring to were only employed by the very rich i.e. by people who didn't have to worry about having enough kids to take care of them in their old age. $\endgroup$ – Shufflepants Sep 19 '17 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Shufflepants: The very rich, the moderately rich, the independent farmers, the women who gained their daily bread by providing intimate services, etc. Life is more complicated than simplified models. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 19 '17 at 15:11
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Prolonged lactation.

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/tc/breast-feeding-as-birth-control-topic-overview

The hormones which maintain breast milk production suppress ovulation; this is lactation induced amenorrhea. The article says don't count on it past 6 months but people routinely do, or try. It is not like a switch flips at 6 months and it stops working. An adjunct or extension of this would be maintaining the period of lactation by shared nursing.

A woman can nurse other babies (or even animals!) after her own is weaned. It is not something given much thought in these days of baby formula but "wet nurses" were vital in the very recent past. If the mother died in childbirth, without a wet nurse you would lose the baby too. There are potentially big societal benefits to this practice especially in a resource poor society. One mother may not herself have the bodily nutritional resources to provide adequate milk, but one mother and several wet nurses would: the burden of feeding the child is spread over many individuals. Diarrhea (usually bacterial dysentery) from dirty water is a major cause of infant mortality even today; there are not bacterial pathogens in breast milk. Additionally there are (I think still theoretical) benefits of immunologically active molecules in breast milk - the pooled immune system of several nurses would be better than that of just the mother.

Benefits of the prolonged lactation system for an author is that one need not get into issues like anal sex or mutual masturbation; I feel like that sort of pushes the fiction into a niche. Having all the ladies nursing all the time is different enough but not over the edge into freaky or prurient.

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  • $\begingroup$ I know people who literally do this today. Just keep on nursing that child, then you don't have to worry about having another. $\endgroup$ – BlackThorn Sep 19 '17 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ My brother was conceived when I was 2 months old and I was still breastfed. This sounds like an advanced pull out method. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 19 '17 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ There are obviously problems with it (it isn't 100%), but it's a pretty effective way to space children. $\endgroup$ – Mark Roberts Sep 19 '17 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ This method is much more effective if people are just barely getting enough calories which is why it fails so readily in modern society. $\endgroup$ – Mazel Sep 19 '17 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ Breastfeeding does not stop conception, a fact to which two of my three children are proof. Also, why would the author get into issues like anal? I know this may sound archaic, but to avoid pregnancy, you can just not have sex or any other sexual relations. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Sep 19 '17 at 22:12
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In a post-apocalyptic society, birth control will probably not be desired by most people, because you need a lot of young people for labor. But there might still be some groups who want it: Women who currently don't have a stable family situation, or who have a job where having a child would be very inconvenient; people who are very fertile and feel that they have enough children after a while, and a variety of other groups.

Let's go through some options:

Hormonal methods are probably impossible. Depending on how crafty your society is, they may be able to work something out by extracting hormone-like substances from plants and animals, but that may strike readers as unrealistic.

Surgical methods — IUDs are probably not worth the infection risk, and female sterilisation is a major surgery that probably won't be available in your society. But male sterilisation in the form of vasectomies might be, because it's a relatively small and harmless procedure along the lines of pulling a tooth. This would almost certainly be irreversible, since it's barely considered reversible with modern medicine.

Barrier methods have been used throughout history, and will probably continue to be used. There will be no rubber or polyurethane, so you'll be back to intestines and other natural materials. These work tolerably well, but don't seem to pose much of a barrier to viruses, so unlike modern condoms they won't protect against STDs. Spermicides might be used, there have been various recipes in history, but they might also cause irritation or infection, and will probably be less effective than modern versions, which already aren't that effective.

Natural family planning (rhythm method) may play a role, but it requires a lot of discipline and measurements to be effective, in a post-apocalyptic society that may not be practical. If food is scarce, many women won't have a regular cycle, so the whole concept will be hard to apply.

Abortion and infanticide: A lot of societies know about herbs that are likely to cause abortions. These are essentially poisons and much more dangerous for the woman than modern abortions. However, many societies have historically limited their number of children primarily by medical abortions. If they didn't know any reasonably safe abortifacients, societies often resorted to killing or exposing unwanted children after they were born.

Conclusion

So, my best guess is that young unmarried people would either use barrier methods or abstain from intercourse (sticking to other forms of sexual contact). Married people may use rhythm methods to space births, but won't be able to completely avoid pregnancies that way (nor will most of them want to). Older men who feel they have enough children in their family may choose a vasectomy.

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  • $\begingroup$ You CLEARLY have not had a vasectomy if you consider it "small and harmless" like pulling wisdom teeth. I've had both and a vasectomy is FAR more debilitating. Granting, in 2-3 weeks it's fine but there is no way post-apocalyptic men are going to subject themselves to that surgery :P $\endgroup$ – Jason K Sep 19 '17 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JasonK the notion is nervous-making enough in our sterile, high-tech medical depots today. It'd be ten times worse if your ... surgeon ... were a gigantic, scarred, tattooed guy named Snake who wears leather and chains into the surgical arena. I can see Snake stomping into the room, smoking a cigar and growling: "Now don't wiggle around. Boys, hold 'im down." $\endgroup$ – akaioi Sep 19 '17 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ Ai, NFP is not the rhythm method! There are modern scientific NFP methods, like Creighton and (I think) STM that don't require ongoing tech and/or supplies (the way Marquette does), and they don't rely on regular cycles. $\endgroup$ – MissMonicaE Sep 19 '17 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ I can't comment on the physical or mental pain of a vasectomy, but it's a small surgery performed on a structure that is easily detected by touch. So, much more comparable to a tooth extraction than to tube tying. Since various penis cutting rituals are common in non industrialized cultures worldwide, I bet they could make it work. $\endgroup$ – pidan_dan Sep 19 '17 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ @MissMonicaE modern NFP methods require charting a precise temperature and analyzing cervical mucus, which will be hard without access to precise thermometers and modern sanitation. That said I mostly used the term rhythm method because that's the term people are familiar with. $\endgroup$ – pidan_dan Sep 19 '17 at 16:13
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There would be few options.

Throughout history, animal intestines have been used as a barrier method. Pulling out is a viable, albeit not very secure, method. Cycle charting/ natural family planning could also work if a woman is regular, healthy, and ovulates normally (in the middle of a 28 day cycle). Natural family planning is fairly effective if all of these conditions are met (but far, far less effective than any hormonal method which would not be possible here).

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The most effective method for contraception will be infant mortality.

Mind you, there will be enough of it for fertility cults to occur. Avoiding pregnancy will be considered as throwing money out of window would, today.

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Copper IUDs. Modern copper intrauterine devices are a mix of plastic and copper (IUD on Wikipedia). However, if they have no access to plastics, your people could use just the copper. (Or silver or gold).

People have been using IUDs for millennia (e.g. history of IUD). Since your people understand science, they'll know to sterilize the IUD properly before insertion, avoiding the risks of infection which the Romans and Ancient Greek women suffered from.

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These are the historic methods of birth control I can remember:

  • Primitive IUDs: sponges and dried pieces of moss introduced in the vagina. Immediate cleanings with substances like vinegar after intercourse.
  • Condoms made of linen/wool: basically, like a thin sock around the penis.
  • Pull-out method.
  • Oral and anal sex, mutual masturbation.
  • Herbal potions, like ones with ruta (they were probably mild poisonings).

However, I think in a collapse scenario they would use the same method as the Middle Ages: a bad diet and hard work made girls' menstruation happen later, less abundant and in an irregular form. And mothers breastfed the babies which acts as a natural contraceptive, too.

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    $\begingroup$ The scientific word for couple using the "pull out" method is "parents". $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 19 '17 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ IUD stands for intra-uterine device. Inserting foreign objects into the uterus is very painful and would be pretty risky in a non-sterile environment. What you are describing, which is more like a primitive female condom. $\endgroup$ – Chelsea Bridson Sep 19 '17 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Pull out method, done correctly, is 96% effective, incorrectly it's 80%, and using no method at all is 15% effective (ie dumb luck.) $\endgroup$ – Brooks Nelson Sep 20 '17 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ Done correctly... good luck with that. Also 80% effective is not very effective. That is something like one child every 5 years! $\endgroup$ – DarcyThomas Jan 8 '18 at 8:57
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  • The most effective method would be to not have vaginal sex at all.

    There are enough other forms of sex to keep people satisfied. And with people i mean men. Those who want to penetrate something. (i hope i don't sound childish, but for me as a man, that's how i feel.)

  • The next effective method would be a reusable-condom. something made of bicycle-tire-rubber or plastic bags which you will find anywhere. Or just those which are beeing sold. (something to look out for on your next raid...)

  • The next i would consider a copper coil (cooper IUD) which seems easy enough to manifacture, but like already stated in a comment, it needs training, know-how or trial-by-error. it all depends in what mood those post-apocalyptic citizens are and how much they lost already from the life before (see my personal note).

personal note:

  • I wouldn't consider anal-sex a safe-form with the absence of antibiotica or other hygienic products (condoms, enema) to do it in a safe manner.

  • If i were to live in such a situation (ofc it depends if you're born into or know how life was before) i would probably resign pretty fast and just "pull-out" and don't give a damn.

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  • Primitive Female Condoms : blocking sperm from entering the cervix/uterus by inserting a foreign object into the vagina

  • Herbal and plant based contraceptives and abortifactents These have been used for thousands of years. For instance, wild carrot seeds are known to have effects similar to birth control pills. And black cohosh has abortifactent properties.

  • Natural spermicides such as copper or lemon juice

  • Withdrawal : self explanatory

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Leaving newborns to die in a place where they won't be found.

This was one of the "contraception" methods of choice after the fall of Rome, our world's one real-world post-apocalyptic scenario. Archeologists are still finding mounds of baby skeletons under old aqueducts to this day.

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I'm not sure I understand the point of this question.

If there has been an apocalypse, why on Earth would you need contraception?

Surely any apocalyptic event would wipe out most life on Earth (if not all)? So wouldn't the purpose of contraception be a moot one?

In any case, assuming small pockets of humanity actually could survive the aftermath of an apocalypse (disease, famine, drought, plus many others depending on the cause), goal one would be to rebuild civilisation. That would mean children with as many varied females as possible to increase genetic diversity and avoid the complete annihilation of humanity... though in reality, we won't make it when it happens.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, MysticSmeg. Please note that the Worldbuilding community is dedicated to providing detailed answers to specific questions an individual is having while developing his/her fictional world. Answers are expected to answer the question that was asked, while comments may ask for clarification or provide criticism. What you have here is a valid question, but has reached the low-quality review queue as it does not answer the question and may be deleted as a result. If you haven't already, feel free to take the tour to get a better understanding of the site. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 19 '17 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ Some people might not be on board with sacrificing themselves for the cause of rebuilding civilization. Others would think fewer children, better raised are a better gift to posterity than numerous savages. Yet others may foresee temporary issues such as resource scarcity or a year-long scavaging or exploration mission. Finally, there's old age. $\endgroup$ – Emilio M Bumachar Sep 19 '17 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the welcome Frostfyre. I posted this a while back and it was a point of view rather than an answer. On reflection the question can't be answered succinctly; the subject is too large. @EmilioMBumachar, thanks, some interesting points and I agree that some people may not be up for re-population (too old, too proud). But, I would argue it would happen naturally as small groups of individuals formed communities to facilitate survival (farming, et al). Re: savagery; there will always be those who revert to a different style of survival preying on less defensible communities / individuals $\endgroup$ – MysticSmeg Jul 24 at 11:36

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