Contraception, probably most colloquially known – these days – as “birth control,” is today’s taboo topic.
Too often we are led to believe there are two types of birth control: condoms and “the Pill.” As an aside, I think it’s amusing that, 65 years after contraceptive pills began being researched professionally, we still often refer to this subcategory of oral contraceptives as the pill with a capital “P.” That’s the power of the innovation.
Anyway, those two types are misleading, but – like many lies, contain a kernel of truth and so speak to the two main methods of contraception: barrier and hormonal.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. “Yvonne, why aren’t you saying ‘birth control’ like everyone else?” A) I’m not “everyone else.” B) Because I’m not talking about birth control, necessarily. I’m primarily speaking of stopping pregnancy from happening in the first place, which effectively weeds out the need for birth control, which I would argue is more along the lines of abortion and other methods of population control.
Now, that’s that.
From what little I’ve gathered on the subject from my Protestant community, it seems that the barrier method is more easily accepted as a God-pleasing way. This is not to say that hormonal methods are not employed, but they are often spoken about in hushed tones for fear of judgement – because why would anyone want to avoid pregnancy?
I’ll be listing various methods of contraception – from least effective to most effective – and compiling my descriptions from memory and the resources of Planned Parenthood. Today’s post will deal with the barrier method.
Contrary to popular belief, there are many types of barrier methods – both chemical and physical. They are also available to be controlled by both men and women. Barrier methods are pretty awesome because they’re temporary, reversible, and can be experimented with. Although a few need to be gotten from a doctor, most are readily available in all drugstores and many grocery stores.
- Cervical cap: Cervical caps have come a long way from the ancient air-hockey striker hard rubber one used as an example in the class I talked about in “The Talk.” They look relatively non-threatening these days – soft, flexible, and clear. They are given a squirt of a spermicidal jelly, inserted into the vagina up against the cervix, and can be inserted hours before you have sex, but must be left in for at least 6 hours afterwards. With perfect use, 14% of women who’ve never given birth vaginally will get pregnant, while 29% of women who have given birth vaginally will become pregnant again. For more information on the cervical cap, click here.
- Spermicide: Spermicides are one of the more diverse classifications of barrier methods – and the only chemical one. They keep sperm from carrying on its merry way to find an egg and do a bang-up job of it when combined with every other barrier method, but aren’t so stellar on their own. Still, the sheer variety of spermicide is impressive – cream, foam, film, gel, suppository – and their integration into other barrier methods is undoubtedly vital to those methods’ success. When used alone, 15%-29% of women will become pregnant in a year of using spermicide. For more information on spermicide, click here.
- Sponge: Sponges employ spermicide and are inserted into the vagina similarly to cervical caps. They can be inserted up to 24 hours before sex and have to be left for six hours afterwards, but can’t be left in for more than 30 hours, so this seems like a good time to plan things out ahead of time. Also like cervical caps, they are slightly more effective for women who have never given birth. With perfect use 9% of women who have never given birth will become pregnant (with imperfect use, 12%), while 20% of women who have given birth will become pregnant (with imperfect use, 24%). For more information on the sponge, click here.
- Diaphragm: Diaphragms are like the sleeker cousins of cervical caps. Larger and more flexible, but used in almost exactly the same way, diaphragms also require spermicide inside and around the rim, can be inserted hours before sex, and require six hours inside after sex. When used perfectly, 6% of women will become pregnant in a year, while imperfect use will see 12% become pregnant in a year. For more information on diaphragms, click here.
- Female condom: Female condoms, as far as I am concerned, are probably the most bizarre looking of all contraceptives. They look a bit like a pastry bag with the skinny end closed with a ring on the outside and the other end open, with a ring incorporated into the opening, to keep it round. The smaller end is inserted into the vagina and the rings hook around the cervix to keep it in place. When used with STIs in mind, they can protect against them. When used perfectly, 5% of women will get pregnant in a year (21% with imperfect use). For more information about female condoms, click here.
Male condom: Male condoms are the ones you’ve all heard about and most sexually active people have used. They’re the ones with a hilarious cameo in Never Been Kissed and the reason Ross freaks out in “The One Where Rachel Tells…”. And we know and talk about them so much because they’re the most effective form of barrier contraception. Often coated with spermicide and/or some other lubricant, they come in a myriad of varieties – latex, non-latex synthetics, lambskin, and various types of coating and textures are put on them. Latex and non-latex are effective for STI prevention, but lambskin is not. When used perfectly for a year, 2% of women will become pregnant (18% with imperfect use). For more information on condoms, click here.
Take away: Barrier methods can be awesome, but they have to be used perfectly and – even then – there’s always a risk of pregnancy. On top of that, some of them take a little practice (inserting things and applying things can be a bit tricky!). But they’re definitely cost-effective. The biggest thing to remember about barrier methods is that only condoms provide some protection from STIs. This is why medical testing of all involved is imperative to trusting your sexual partner(s). At some point, someone said, “When you have sex with one person, you’re also having sex with all the people they’ve had sex with,” and that can be a pretty incredible cocktail of STIs and bacteria. Take precautions and be smart. I’m not preaching that people shouldn’t make their own decisions, but informed decisions are the best decisions. Trusting your partner – preferably with a doctor’s report in hand – is the only way to make that happen for certain.
If these options don’t seem to fit what you want to do, we’ll explore further options in the next days and weeks.
Although I originally intended to write about all of the most common contraceptives in one post, I’ve realized there’s a lot of information to cover and not nearly enough attention span to cover it all in one post. My original schedule will be altered to accommodate another two posts concerning contraception.
February 4: The Truth About Sex February 11: Contraceptionist part 1
- February 12: Contraceptionist part 2
- February 13: Contraceptionist part 3
- February 18: Pro-Options
- February 25: Let’s Talk
I hope you’ll bear with me, as I already have things on schedule for Creative Thursday and Quick Thoughts Friday. But I’ll do my best to pump out four posts in the next two days in place of my usual two! I would really like to keep the ball rolling on this line of thought, however, and not through the schedule into a tizzy and well into March. I quite like the idea of discussing taboo topics on our February Whatever Wednesdays.
If you have any ideas for other things I should approach in this discussion, please let me know and keep me in mind for the next few weeks as this series continues.