BIRTH CONTROL

This information is divided into four parts:

1 General Issues -  a review of the meaning and methods of birth control

2 Artificial Methods of Birth Control  - condoms, diaphragms, IUDs, pills, vaginal spermicides

2 (continued) Artificial Methods of Birth Control - IUD, Pill, Spermicide

3 Natural Methods - calendar, temperature, cervical mucus

4 Sterilization - tubal ligation, vasectomy


1 GENERAL ISSUES

There is a considerable variety of birth control methods, but each one has the same purpose: to make sure that a baby is conceived only when one is desired or planned. That is why birth control is often called "family planning." Choosing a proper birth control method is a serious matter and needs to be done with thought and care. It would not be so important if all means of preventing fertilization were absolutely safe, had no side effects or complications, were easy to use, reversible, cost little or nothing, did not require medical involvement, did not interfere with sexual activity, and were universally accepted by religious and cultural belief systems. Since this is not the case, clear, informed thinking must dominate each person's and each couple's decision-making.

There is no one method that is best for everyone. The method you choose must be one that both you and your partner trust absolutely. You must feel comfortable using it and it should not interfere in any way with the spontaneity of your sex life. It should fit comfortably within your religious and cultural belief system, and not provoke guilt or anxiety. The method you choose must have no harmful side effects and it must provide you with the highest possible actual effectiveness in preventing fertilization. Then you have to take into account your age, your available medical care, your financial situation and the frequency with which you have sex; you must also examine your feelings about abortion and what happens if your chosen method fails.

Current status of male contraceptive methods

Not only are all the following statements untrue, but some of them could, if followed, mean that people who thought they were protected would find themselves without any contraceptive protection at all:

People reject contraception for a number of reasons:

Rationalization and Denial

For many people, love means not worrying about whether you are protected or not. Love is spontaneous, risky and means abandonment not planning or taking precautions. Getting and using a contraceptive is too calculated and very unromantic.

Wanting and Needing a Baby

Frequently women desperately want someone to love and be loved by. In the absence of a fulfilling relationship with another adult, it is not unknown, for young women especially, to want a baby to meet this need. Pregnancy and a baby can finally bring them the attention they crave and recognition that they too have a role.

Adult women may not use contraception and become pregnant to fill a real emotional need. If they feel emotionally impoverished or rejected, or if they are grieving the loss of a child or a partner, having a baby can be seen as a way to relieve the pain and fill the emptiness.

Availability of Abortion

Abortion is legal, safe and relatively inexpensive. Some people think of it as an easy way out of a pregnancy, so why bother using a contraceptive? Some women want to see if they are really feminine and so they become pregnant just to prove they can. Similarly, some men want to impregnate a woman to make sure their sperm can cause a pregnancy. The availability of abortion makes these risks easier to take. Women and men who permit or cause a pregnancy to prove their fertility are usually struggling with the meaning of their masculinity or femininity. Their self-esteem is low and pregnancy is an obvious, if thoughtless, way of gaining reassurance. It is a particularly common urge in early middle age. Sometimes, as a woman moves toward the time when she will no longer be able to bear a child, she may get pregnant as a sign of her continuing femininity. Men, too, may use their ability to cause a pregnancy as a public sign that they are still sexually active and "real men."

Embarrassment and Guilt About Using Contraceptives

The embarrassment of admitting ignorance about what contraceptives are, where to buy them and how to use them keeps some people, and not only young people, from using contraceptives. Embarrassment about their contraceptive(s) being discovered by family or friends also prevents some young people from taking proper precautions when having sexual intercourse. Sometimes women are embarrassed by the thought of having to speak with a physician or counselor or by having to have a pelvic examination.

Many young people are made to feel guilty by disapproving, judgmental physicians, clinic staff or pharmacists. This guilt may keep them from using contraceptives. Sometimes a physician's attitude causes anxiety and guilt and prevents a woman or man from getting proper birth control advice and attention and a pregnancy occurs. This is called an iatrogenic cause ("physician cause") of pregnancy. Many young people have been raised believing sex is for having babies. Therefore, using a contraceptive means having sex for pleasure, which is wrong or sinful. Not using contraceptives eases their guilt, even if they are risking a pregnancy.

Insecurity

Some people have strong feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred. Not using a contraceptive and becoming pregnant may be used to express their hostility about themselves (masochism). Sometimes a woman allows herself to become pregnant as a protest to her husband or family against her feelings of rejection or alienation. Some men cause pregnancies for revenge or to punish a woman because of problems in the relationship and others will try to cause a pregnancy to prove to themselves they are truly heterosexual. Overcoming sexual problems can be made easier with good advice and sound techniques.

RELATIONSHIPS

The effective use of birth control is an important aspect of every relationship. An unintended pregnancy can create tremendous strain on a relationship so mature, thoughtful men and women usually discuss their individual responsibilities:

"Since we started talking about sharing the responsibility for birth control our long term sexual relationship has become less strained and more enjoyable."

"You can always learn something about a person when they talk about their role regarding birth control use in a relationship."

Sometimes couples are confused about who should do what. Some men still view birth control as the woman's responsibility because it is she, after all, who risks getting pregnant. Some men indicate they would like to take responsibility for birth control in their relationship, but they do not care for condoms and see no alternatives. Other men simply accept the responsibility for ensuring effective birth control in their relationships, feel positive about it, and do not see it as a threat to their role.

Frequently, women feel they have no choice but to assume responsibility for birth control because their partners refuse to use any, they do not want to get pregnant and they do not want to challenge their partners' attitudes and create tension. Very powerful and subtle issues of dominance and submissiveness, proof of masculinity or femininity, proof of true love or independence influence the decision to use birth control.

"My husband acts like it's a great inconvenience for him to use a condom. When I use something, I get the feeling he thinks he just won a victory of some sort."

"I have real questions about the method of birth control I'm using, but my lover won't consider using any. It's a part of our relationship we haven't worked out yet."

"Sometimes my wife and I are really getting it on sexually, then she has to stop to put her diaphragm in. It's become a turn-off and a real strain."

"When I had total responsibility for birth control it made me angry. Now we share the task."

CULTURE AND RELIGION

We have records from as far back as 1800 B.C. showing that many different substances have been used in the vagina to prevent conception. They also show that it has always been the woman's responsibility. In Ancient Egypt Cleopatra apparently used a mixture of sodium carbonate, honey and dried crocodile dung made into a paste and placed in the vagina to block and immobilize sperm; it may have been the very first vaginal jelly. At about that period women also used pieces of cloth soaked with honey, lemon juice or butter. Aristotle, in fourth-century B.C. Greece, wrote about the use of olive oil and oil of cedar in the vagina as a protection against pregnancy. In eighth-century India, they used rock salt dipped in honey or oil. Twelfth century Muslims used tampon-like devices with various oils. In Polynesia no birth control methods were known-abortion was the only remedy. Catholicism. In the Old Testament, parenthood and family were described as virtues, but scripture itself does not provide Roman Catholics with perfectly clear guidance on the morality of contraception. Historically, the official position of the Catholic Church on contraception has come from the Vatican. The strictest interpretation of these teachings prohibits the use of any artificial method of contraception under pain of sin.

Pope John Paul I repeated this traditional position, which had been expressed consistently by Plus Xl, Pius XII and by Paul VI in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. In this important message, Paul VI stated: "every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life." Accordingly, abstinence or natural family planning methods are the only means of exercising any choice about parenthood. Some authorities in the Catholic Church would regard the use of these methods for pleasure-seeking only, without any parental responsibility, as immoral. Although the teaching of the Church on birth control seems clear, a great diversity of opinion and practice exists among Roman Catholics. Serious reflection is leading some Catholic theologians and many ordinary people to form positions of conscience that permit them to use a variety of birth control methods in the interest of prudent family planning.

It appears that the formation of a person's conscience is beginning to replace unquestioning belief in the Church's instructions, blindly followed by so many couples in the past. It is very common today for priests discussing birth control to state the Vatican ruling, but to avoid the implication of sin. The idea that more liberal priests are seeking to convey is that the traditional teaching of the Church - that procreation is central to intercourse - is still entirely valid. But, they suggest, couples who wish to limit the size of their families and space out the arrival of the children in the best interests of t he family as a whole are behaving responsibly. Such couples, they imply, are following the spirit, if not the letter, of the Church's teaching. The decision to use contraceptives is not an easy one for many devout Catholics. It is a matter of conscience, and requires deep reflection to ensure that spiritual health is not sacrificed to medical or economic well-being.

Q: "My parish priest told me my wife and I are committing a sin every time we use artificial birth control. My friend's priest told him he and his wife should decide for themselves what they want to do about birth control. What do we do?"

A: "This points up the conflict that exists in the Roman Catholic Church today and the typical confusion that results for people like you and your wife. Your priest took the position that contraception is sinful. Your friend's priest places the highest value on the formation of individual conscience. It probably would help you and your wife to talk with your friend's priest and perhaps with other Catholics as you continue to deliberate and search your conscience about what is right for you. Your own priest is presenting you with the strictest interpretation of the Church's teaching, but the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic couples throughout the world believe that it is morally responsible for them to use birth control, provided they have first honestly examined their consciences about the emotional, social, medical, economic and spiritual aspects of their decision. For the majority, love itself is creative, and it is not necessary for every sexual act between them to be open to the creation of a child. Their decision is based on their whole relationship and the nature and meaning of their acts within their marriage."

From one point of view, every ejaculation inside a woman is not just part of a relationship, a social act, but is a political act which symbolizes man's dominance over woman, man's subjugation of woman, and woman's role as a passive acceptor of that which man provides.

Jewish tradition regards children as a blessing. In the Talmud, the rabbis stated "Four are considered dead: the poor, the blind, the leper and he who has no children." Children were thought of partly as an investment - they could work alongside their parents and then could support and care for them in their old age. Children also guaranteed that the spirit of the parents would live on after they were dead. Judaism regards having children as a duty required by God, and in light of the Jewish historic experience, it is clear why having many children has been important: the centuries of maltreatment, the numerous persecutions and the Holocaust have meant that a continuing high birth rate was necessary to preserve the race.

However, most Jews other than the strictly Orthodox believers now regard birth control favorably, provided some children are produced and the family established. Modern Judaism, with its new-found security, is concerned with the quality of life of children and the family and respects the right of husbands and wives to make decisions that allow them and their children to live lives that are emotionally, physically, economically and religiously sound. In the Talmud it is clearly stated several times that a woman may use the absorbent (a piece of cloth placed in the vagina) only if she is a nursing mother, pregnant or a child-wife. The absorbent, an artificial device, is seen by some traditionalists as sanctioning "mechanical" methods of birth control like the diaphragm and condom.

Protestant churches have inherited the same view on the use of sex within marriage for the purpose of having children as the Catholic Church. The difference between most Protestant churches and the Catholic Church in their practice is that Protestants have come to accept officially that birth control methods as family planning are a positive good. In effect, most Protestant churches take publicly the same line that many individual Catholics take privately. Some fundamentalist Protestant sects do not accept artificial methods of birth control, but their numbers are small. Most Protestant churches believe that family planning is a responsible measure if used for reasons of physical or emotional health, for economic reasons or to promote the quality of life. This does not mean however that most Protestant churches sanction the use of birth control measures outside marriage.


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Artificial Methods of Birth Control - condom, cap, diaphragm ] Artificial Methods of Birth Control - IUD, Pill, Spermicide ] Natural Methods of Birth Control ] Sterilization - Birth Control, vasectomy and tubal ligation ]