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Contraception - know it,
use it, love it

(March 23, 2000, Gazette)

By Kelley Power


Do I have your attention? Of course I do. I don’t know any word in the English language that can make people sit up and take notice like that one does.

And why is that? I suppose it’s because, deep down, we still have that basic, pre-evolutionary animal mentality which tells us that our mission in life involves only eating, sleeping and – most importantly – multiplying.

Yes, deep down we are a simple species. But the ideas we have come up with over the centuries to ensure that the pursuit of this, the most basic of our instincts, does not result in an unwanted outcome – i.e. a bun in the oven – are far from simple.

The history of contraception is a true tribute to the ingenuity of the human mind. Who’d have thought that crocodile dung could be used for birth control? Not an attractive option, I know, but when mixed with fermented dough and used as a pessary (liken it to a cervical cap) by women centuries ago, it was actually moderately effective.

Even men got into the spirit of things, using condoms of sheepskin or snakeskin (ouch!) or, as was the practice of Casanova, placing a halved lemon, hollowed out, at a key spot inside his lucky lady (not only did this function as a barrier, the lemon juice acted as a spermicide).

Quite a creative species, aren’t we?

Of course, we’ve come a long way from the days when bloodletting and swallowing mercury to prevent pregnancy were common. We now have at our disposal the arsenal created by modern science, everything from latex and polyurethane condoms for the gents to progesterone/estrogen implants for the ladies. Some products available now are as much as 99.7 per cent effective.

And it is the very fact that many methods of birth control today are so very effective that leads me to ask the question: Why do we continue to have so many unwanted/unplanned pregnancies?

There are, of course, the more traditional-type reasons: those who adhere strictly to the dogmas of certain churches consider it a sin to artificially subvert God’s purpose for us little people – populating the earth (frankly, I think we’re doing well enough; why not moderate a little?).

The rhythm method is the only form of birth control endorsed by such religions and, while it can have average rates of effectiveness around 85 per cent in clinical trials, it is highly dependent on the regularity of a woman’s cycle, among other factors; rates can be as low as 20 per cent outside a controlled environment.

To the number who fall under the above category add the people who, although using birth control methods with a higher rate of effectiveness – like condoms or oral contraceptives – are using them incorrectly and/or irregularly. That adds up to a significant group of people.

Now, consider the delicacy with which we treat sex in our society. As much as we like to consider ourselves sexually liberated, the topic of sex still remains taboo. I remember we were reading the basics on the workings of reproductive organs in junior high, but that was about it.

In many cases, early sex education is limited to what is discussed amongst friends or what is seen in movies and on T.V. – and I don’t remember the last time any feature film out of Hollywood showed the leading man and lady having a pre-coital chat about contraception.
And then, of course, there is the difficulty of carrying the concept of contraception to remote areas where the idea of birth control by modern methods is foreign.

I remember a story that illustrates the problems this sometimes presents; I can’t tell you where this came from – the source has long ago escaped the narrow slot allotted in my mind at this late stage in the semester for “Generally Useless Information.”

In effect, what happened was that, after teaching villagers in a remote settlement how to use a condom – illustrating the action of applying it by rolling the condom down over a stick – aid workers from some agency or another revisited the village some time later to view the results of their birth control education sessions.

Much to their dismay, the population not only hadn’t stabilized, it had grown significantly. The villagers were at a loss to explain the situation: the women continued to get pregnant despite the fact that, prior to intercourse, a stick had been found and the condom dutifully rolled down over it.

Hmmm. I think that may rank as one of the greatest miscommunications of all time.

It just goes to show that inter-cultural applications of birth control methods must be closely monitored if they are to succeed.

Of course, the only sure way of avoiding unwanted pregnancy is abstinence.

Now, now. No boos or hisses please.

The choice to abstain from sex until marriage (or whatever union you prefer) is being made by more and more young people today. And, while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, justification for that decision seems to echo in every headline proclaiming an increased occurrence of STDs in our society.

With all this talk of unwanted pregnancy, I suppose I have to at least mention the last ditch solution to that problem: abortion. Now, I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers by detailing my own opinion of that particular issue. Suffice to say that I think it’s a road taken too often by people who, if they’d been a little more responsible, could have avoided pregnancy in the first place.

The bottom line is that engaging in intercourse will always carry some risk of pregnancy – don’t dance with the devil if you don’t want to get burned. At least consider the worst case scenario before you go bounding blindly into the dangerous territory of unprotected sex.

I don’t have an earth-shattering point to make about this whole issue; I just thought I’d draw some attention to it because we are, after all, university students and I’m sure that there’s a statistic somewhere that says we’re the most sexually active sector of the population.

Just use something reliable – and use it properly – if you’re gonna hit the sheets. It would be a shame to screw up the rest of your life for the sake of one night.