When it comes to the study of history, all one has to do is look in the history textbooks available to see some of the more arduous things that humans had to go through. Once and a while the discussion might be punctuated with a mention about everyday life, but it is mostly all about battles and politics.
However, none of those famous generals or politicians would have been around were it not for fertility. Some colleges might actual focus on the study of how fertility was treated in history, but basically, it is rather shocking to note that most couples simply "did what came naturally". The result for women was frequent pregnancy, and sometimes even death during childbirth.
Interestingly enough, the overall roles of men and women in fertility are actually rather similar to what they are today. Men are usually the aggressors, in that they are meant to pursue the woman first sexually. However, as opposed to earlier points in history, women who are the aggressors are far more alluring and acceptable than they once were.
Back in the "old days" more emphasis was placed on promoting fertility than protecting against the effects of it. For example, when it came to men, eating a pomegranate or eating lots of oysters were meant to promote the production of sperm. As for a woman, depending on the culture she belonged to, she might participate in various rituals to promote conception.
Keeping all of this in mind, it is important to note that there were various methods sometimes in use for preventing conception. For men, condoms were made out of the intestines of sheep. Obviously, these were not as effective as the latex ones available today. For women, there were various mixtures of herbs inserted into the vagina that were used as a form of spermacide.
When it came to the overall conception situation, women definitely had it harder for obvious reasons. Sometimes, whether it be through rape or though just indiscretion, they would become pregnant out of wedlock. This was practically unheard of, so they often ended up at a "home for unwed mothers" in order to hide their shame.
Things have definitely evolved from those rather primitive days of conception. Now, women are not relegated to the job of "just" staying at home and watching the children if they don't choose to do so. In fact, women are waiting longer than ever before to have children, because they want to first establish themselves in their careers.
Also, couples are more fastidious about protecting against pregnancy than ever before. Men who did not like using condoms before will use them now because they have been designed to make the man feel as if he wasn't wearing one in the first place. Women might choose to use a birth control pill, or they might actually go so far as to have their fallopian tubes surgically blocked. So, whereas before couples felt the necessity to populate the earth with their children, now, quite simply, they have a choice.