'Downton' Tackles The Birth Control Debate

Whoa. Downton Abbey is getting more scandalous by the minute. Did Anna really just buy contraception for Lady Mary? How ghastly! The horror! For real though, Anna was somewhat appalled to be touching such an object, not to mention scared out of her mind getting caught in the act. I've never seen someone shop so quickly! So this brings me to my big question: what kind of early 1900s contraception did Anna buy? What protection was available for women and men in the 20th century? You know, now that Tony and Mary might be hitting the sheets (bow chicka wow wow), they need to be responsible.

Well, I did much research on birth control back in the day. Honestly, I didn't even know they had it, because I never really gave it much thought. Silly me. If you'd like to educate yourself more on the history of contraception, visit Planned Parenthood, because they have a lot of great information. Anyways, back to my question, according to Planned Parenthood, by 1924 (at least in America) the most common form of birth control for men was the condom. As for the ladies, in the early 20th century, women could thank "the British birth control crusader" Marie Stopes for providing a simple method aka a sponge moistened with olive oil. Yes, a sponge was strong enough to block and absorb semen.

Another form of birth control were vaginal cocoa butter suppositories sold in London from 1885 to 1960. Per a November 2010 FPA (a sexual health charity in the U.K.) document, later on, cocoa butter was replaced by hydroquinine, "a more potent spermicide," and then sponges soaked in quinine sulphate. Talk about chemical contraception. A spermicidal jelly called Patentex was released in 1906, thanks to Friedrich Merz.

In 1843, rubber condoms were finally made for males. Then, in the 1930s, crepe rubber was replaced by latex. As for women, in 1883, a "vulcanized rubber cap" aka a Dutch cap had an "integral circular watchspring and covered the upper vagina and cervix." Let's give Dutch doctor Aletta Jacobs a round of applause for her invention of the diaphragm. Then, in the early 1900s, the first rubber condom was invented for women in the U.K.

Wow. Birth control has come such a long way. Now, what did Anna pick up for Mary? Well, I have no clue, but it's probably one of these methods most common back in the day (either a sponge, diaphragm, or condom). One thing I do know is that contraception was still very controversial in the early 20th century, so Mary and Tony are taking a big risk (yes, I know having sex before marriage is also frowned upon as well). Whatever the case, at least they're being responsible and Lady Mary isn't letting society tell her how to live her life.

Images: ©Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for MASTERPIECE; Giphy (2)