Birth Control Round Up

Last Wednesday we had one of the most popular discussions on this blog about the Christian view of birth control and what form of birth control is best. I had to keep updating the post throughout the day because people left such great comments, and I wanted to add their information. In the original post, I talked about the two main viewpoints: some say it’s up to God to set the size of their family, so they don’t use birth control at all. Others choose to restrict the family size. I think both viewpoints are valid, but for those of you still looking for what birth control method is best, and which fits with your Christian values the most, read on.

I thought I’d write a round-up of the comments, and some of the discussion. In the original post, I didn’t really present my viewpoint, but instead just listed the pros and cons of all the methods. After reading the comments, and reading my manuscript for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (I had to send in the final proofs last week), I thought I’d be brave and share what I do think.

First, let me list my regrets, which are quite similar to those listed in the comments. The Pill just killed my libido. I went on the Pill like just about everyone I knew when I got married. That’s just what everyone did in the late eighties and early nineties. I could make sure that I wasn’t going to have my period on my wedding night, and that seemed like a pretty good benefit!

However, it’s not a good thing to start your marriage with no sex drive. And it’s even worse to start it really moody, which is exactly what happened to me. Here’s what one commenter said:

Whenever my friends are getting married, I always tell them about my experience with the Pill. I started the Pill when I was 15 (I was a virgin, but I was having stomach issues and they thought the Pill would help it, hah) so when I married my hubby at 19 i just decided to keep using the Pill. Worst idea ever! Being a virgin, I had no idea what to expect with all the technical bodily stuff. Looking back, I realize the Pill made me extremely dry (virtually no natural lubricant), so it made sex much more painful for me than normal. The Pill also made me a crazy hormonal monster! But because I had been on it for so long, I didn’t realize how crazy it made me. Fast forward to June of 2010, I decided to stop taking the Pill because I had just had 3 surgeries all within a year of each other and I just wanted to get my body back to normal. Oh my gosh, what a difference it has made!! Sex is SOO much more wonderful and amazing without it! Let’s just say as soon as I stopped the Pill, I was “in the mood” all the time! I was not dry anymore, and I felt wonderful. I always felt frustrated, stressed out, and negative when on the Pill, but now I really feel like a whole new person!

And here’s another making a different point about the Pill:

We don’t prevent anymore, but there was a time when I was on the pill, and we did try using condoms for a while. For me the pill did not do anything for my cramps, and after a few years, it stopped regulating my cycle. Those were not the reasons I went off it, but I think it’s worth noting. It also seemed like a waste of money. The breakdown was about $2 a pill–including the placebos–to prevent something that can only happen a limited number of times resulting from an activity that only happens a certain number of times in the year. In other words, I have to use it even when I’m not going to have sex, and even when conception would not occur anyway.

Personally, two years into our marriage I went off of the Pill when we wanted to get pregnant, and I never went back. I hadn’t realized at the time that the Pill was the thing that was affecting my libido, and that it was the Pill that was making moody. But as soon as I stopped taking it, I cheered up (even though I was pregnant and hormonal with the baby).

Every hormonal form of birth control, whether it’s the ring or the Pill or the injection, works basically the same way, by secreting a hormone that stops ovulation (or, as some literature suggests, allows ovulation at times and prevents implantation). So even if you’re not taking the Pill, if you’re taking something hormonal, you could have the same problems.

Not everyone experiences this. Not everyone is moody. And for some people, it works great. A few commenters swore by the Pill.

Others noted, though, that the Pill has definitely been linked to blood clots and stroke, and some studies say it may be linked to breast cancer (some studies show that it is, but others show that it isn’t, and I am wary about taking a stand since I’m not medical. But it could very well be an issue). There’s also the controversy about whether or not it truly does prevent ovulation each and every time. I don’t believe that this is clear-cut, but if it’s even a slight risk, do you really want to take it? So if you’re on the Pill, or you’re considering going on something hormonal, really think and pray and research it.

UPDATE: My commenters are awesome! I have seen medical literature saying that it prevents ovulation, not implantation, but one commenter went on a bunch of websites and copied out what the companies themselves said, and in their own claims they note that it prevents implantation. For instance, here’s the commenter’s discovery about one popular pill:

OrthoTriCyclen Pill:
http://www.thepill.com/thepill/assets/How_the_Pill_Works.pdf
Secondary Methods
The hormones in ORTHO TRI-CYCLEN® LO also cause changes in the body that help prevent pregnancy.
• Taking the Pill causes the lining of the uterus to change, which makes it hard for an egg to
be implanted.
• It also thickens mucus around the cervix—making it difficult for sperm to reach the egg.

The commenter has lots more, so go read what Emily found! (End Update)

As for the IUD, while some commenters loved it, others were concerned about the possible link to future miscarriages or infertility, and similar problems to preventing implantation rather than conception. Again, I’m not medical, and so I’m not capable of judging which medical studies are right. I’d just simply say do your research.

After thinking about it, the method that I feel the most comfortable with, and the one that I will be encouraging my daughters one day to use, is FAM, or Fertility Awareness Method. Here’s the gist: you figure out when you’re fertile, either by checking your temperature daily, checking your cervical fluid, or using one of the devices you can buy at a drug store. You chart your cycle, and figure out when you’re fertile each month. Generally, women are fertile for about 5 days: 2 days before ovulation, the day of ovulation, and 2 days afterwards. Sperm can live for several days, so if you make love 2 days before you ovulate, those sperm could still fertilize an egg. The egg is fertile for about 3 days, so those days after ovulation are also possible times for conception.

If you know which these days are, you can either abstain from sex on those days, or use a barrier method (like a condom or a diaphragm) or spermicide on those days. However, don’t just assume that you ovulate on day 14! Most women don’t. But if you very carefully chart your temperature, or keep track of your cervical fluid, and then use barriers on your fertile days, the pregnancy rate is about the same as the condom and the Pill–less than 3%. So it is a very accurate method of birth control–as long as you are accurate in your charting! It takes discipline on your part, but if you are disciplined, it can really work.

Here’s what’s good about this method: you get really used to your own body, and learn to pay better attention to it. Honestly, the more you understand your body, the more likely you are to enjoy sex anyway. Often we women spend so much time ignoring our bodies’ cues, because we don’t really like thinking about our bodies. This makes us think about them, and that can often make us more comfortable with ourselves, and thus more able to relax about our sexual selves.

The other good thing? For the majority of the time, you don’t have to worry about any form of birth control at all, because you know when you’re not fertile.

Now, the downside is that it takes discipline and diligence. But apparently you don’t need to be totally regular. It can still work.

If you want more information about this, I’d really encourage you to check out the Christian Family Planning Network. They provide lots of advice on how to make this work, forums where you can talk to other women, lots of charts, and even an online course to get you started, helping you to understand your fertility, your cycle, your body’s changes, and more. And the neat thing is that not only does it teach you how NOT to get pregnant; if you do want to get pregnant, and you’re irregular, it teaches you how to do that, too!

I wish I had started my marriage this way. Does it mean you won’t get pregnant by accident? Nope. But there never are guarantees. The good thing is that if you are aware of your body, you really are less likely to. And perhaps if we had started this way, and had realized that we don’t need to use condoms or a diaphragm throughout the entire month, and we don’t need to be on the Pill, I would have been less likely to agree to the vasectomy, and I may have more children right now! Again, some commenters were so grateful for the surgical methods (they had health issues that made further pregnancies dangerous, or they already had a pile of kids), but many, like me, regretted using that final solution.

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Now I’m not saying that all other forms of birth control are bad.I really have no problem with condoms, but I figure, why use them all the time if you really don’t need to? But fully research all methods before you use something that could really affect your body, like an IUD or hormonal methods. You need to be comfortable with them from a health and a moral point of view.

So, I’d go with FAM. But I know it’s a very personal decision. What do you think?

Sheila is the author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex–with tons of information on how to make sex a beautiful, intimate, and FUN experience in your marriage!

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