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From Condoms to IUDs: Types of contraception and how they work

Contrary to popular belief, contraception has NOT started with the pill. The truth is contraceptive and abortive methods have been practiced for almost as long as we have practiced sex – and the controversy around them is more recent than one might think.

Here you’ll learn about the history of contraception, the taboo around it, and the pros and cons of most common methods.

A Brief History of Fertility & Contraception

Fertility has always been a big staple through human history. For elites, being able to generate heirs was crucial. Reproduction is a vital part of our survival as a species – and it was desired and celebrated. However, there was always the flipside of it. And that’s when birth control came into the picture. With scarce resources, the supply of food being uncertain, and high risks of infection, the need for birth control was understandable – especially because women had a high mortality rate when pregnant or giving birth. Humans learned from early on that birth control was a basic necessity.

  • Historical Birth Control Methods Condoms made from animal intestines and skin were used in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. There are also recounting of women using herbs inside the vagina before coitus as a contraceptive method. While in medieval times contraception was frowned upon, it was also largely used. The practice of anal sex as to avoid pregnancy was a punishable offense even within marriage; but there is a number of reports of women using herbs and infusions to cause abortion – especially if they became pregnant outside of wedlock. Devices similar to the modern diaphragm were also common. With a boom of birth rate after the industrial revolution, the average number of children per family got to the highest of all time. It was around that time abortion and contraception began to be seen more as a taboo – and there was more control and punishment around it.

  • The advent of the Pill In the middle of the twentieth century, the contraceptive pill was introduced to the pharmaceutical market. And even if we had been avoiding babies through all of history – this had a never before seen impact in the way our relationships changed as well as the advance of women’s rights. After the Second World War, society began to rearrange as women took over the labor markets and the strict family unit of previous decades was giving space to more dynamic, urban relationships. In this scenario, the birth control pill offered women – and couples – the opportunity of effectively controlling when they would have children. This allowed women not only to prioritize career, but also allowed for them to have sex out of wedlock without fear of getting pregnant. The pill has no doubt revolutionized human relationships – as well as protected women who are high-risk carriers. However, it’s not without its shortcomings. Today, we know the problems hormonal contraception can cause. Since the pill, other methods have become popular and we are now going to discuss them, and their positive and negative points.

Modern contraception methods & how to use them

  • Condoms have been used since the beginning of times, and essentially, have changed very little. Today, they are one of the most effective methods not only in preventing unwanted pregnancies, but also regarding the transmission of STIs.Female condoms are also a great alternative, especially for those allergic to latex. They work just like male condoms, but they are introduced into the vagina - and they protect the vulva against infections, too!

  • Birth control pills contain a dose of hormones which prevents women from ovulating – hence, stopping pregnancy. When used correctly, it has a high efficacy rate (over 95%). However, hormonal contraception has been proved to cause collateral damage for many people. We’ll dive deep into these risks further down.

  • Just like pills, injections, stickers and rings are also hormonal contraceptive methods. The advantage is you don’t need to remember them every day – one dose can be good for up to three months. However practical, they can also bring about the same problems pills do.

  • The diaphragm looks like a little sponge that should be introduced to the cervix right before sex. It is quite effective when used correctly, and hormone-free. However, it’s not the most practical of methods and therefore not very popular.

  • IUDs are little devices made from metal which are surgically placed inside the uterus and prevent conception. Some of them are completely hormone-free – some of them release low-dose hormones. IUDs are effective and can be good for years, but their cost can be high – and they can worsen period pain.

  • While the “morning after” pill is not a contraceptive method, as it is used AFTER sex, it’s still worth noting. This pill is NOT abortive, a common misconception. What it does is it hormonally stops conception from happening inside the uterus. However, it contains a high hormonal dosage and should be only used in emergency cases.

A brief reflection on contraception

Risks, costs, and other things to consider: The policy around contraception varies a lot from place to place. Some countries subsidize contraceptive and morning after pills, some offer free condoms. In a lot of countries, abortion is illegal – or if it is legal, extremely expensive and difficult to get, even in cases of rape. Regardless, the costs of contraception are significant, and add to the “pink tax” – the average expenditure vulvic people have on period products and other essential hygiene items. And even when in relationships, they have to pay for their contraception alone. Another thing to account for is that more modern, less risky contraceptive pills tend to be pricier, leaving poor people at a serious disadvantage. While all contraceptive methods present risks, the usage of hormonal contraception, especially long term, can bring quite alarming consequences. Women taking the birth control pill can have migraines, depression, and bloating. And long term, the pill is linked to higher risk of cancer, infertility, and blood clots – which can lead to strokes and thrombosis. Sharing the responsibility: While there’s been studies on a male contraception pill, it’s not among us yet. But there’s a tendency to leave the responsibility of birth control solely on women’s shoulders. We must manage costs, risks, as well as the consequences of possible unwanted pregnancies. This imbalance is unfair, and makes no sense. Since the start of our civilization we have known about the importance of birth control. It’s about time we face it without taboo, and redistribute this responsibility equally. Have you ever had a conversation with your partner about contraception? Have you ever talked about the costs? The best way to have the conversation it’s just starting. After all, this is an important topic!

So, what contraception should I use?

That is going to depend a lot from case to case. If you have no history of heart and circulation diseases in your family, you might be a good candidate for hormonal contraception. If you have easy access to IUDs, that might be a good option. The right contraception is going to depend on your needs, your family history, and your finances. Consulting a gynecologist is always the best practice to find your tailored solution. But if you can’t go to the doctor for any reason – condoms are the safest and easiest methods out there. They are the only contraceptive method that also protects you from STIs. It’s also usually one of the cheapest. So when in doubt, they should be the go-to solution! And in case you have doubts about the correct way to use a condom, shouldn’t be too hard. Make sure you pick the right size, verify the expiring date, and keep it away from the sun and heat. Careful when tearing up the package, roll it down the penis slowly and make sure there’s no air in the tip! This is one of the number one reasons for breakage. In conclusion, while we have always used contraceptive methods, the modern ones are able to guarantee more freedom and safety. However, we still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding that birth control is a moral responsibility of all of us – not only the ones that can get pregnant.

What about you? How is your experience with contraception? Which is your favorite? Which one doesn’t work for you? How accessible is it where you live? We would love to hear more! Tell us in the comment section on the very bottom of this page!

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