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Biology 103
2000 First Web Report
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Different Forms of Birth Control

Mary Rochelle

Recently the news has been headlining the FDA's approval of a new form of birth control that is predicted to replace 'the pill' as the standard used by women in America. This is the first new form of birth control to hit the market in over 4 years (1). These headlines made me curious about the forms of birth control that are already on the market and whether or not the release of this new birth control method would threaten the existing popularity of these methods.

There are some forms of birth control that are just plain obvious. The most effective form of birth control is by far and away abstinence. Not having sex is the best way to not get pregnant because there have yet to be any cases of asexual human conception. For those humans that don't have the willpower or the desire to abstain from sexual intercourse, there are other methods of birth control that are almost as effective as abstinence. One of them is controversially called a 'method.' Homosexuality is for some people a lifestyle choice, but for others it can be a way of finding sexual satisfaction without risking pregnancy (2). There are many aspects of a person's life that can conflict with a choice to participate in homosexual activity - anything from personal tastes to religion - and so there is a third extremely effective form of birth control.

Sterilization is a process in which a person gets an operation to permanently alter their ability to impregnate or be impregnated. Men can get what is called a no-scalpel vasectomy, which is just as permanent as the original form of vasectomies but can be done in an outpatient ward (3). Women can get what is called tubal ligation, which is also permanent and is a much more difficult operation. Tubal ligation is a surgical procedure that can only be done in a hospital or a surgical ward and usually takes and entire day plus recovery time (4). Sterilization is a serious and permanent procedure that is generally undertaken by couples who have already had children or anyone who is positive that he/she does not want to have children of his/her own.

Aside from more drastic forms of birth control, there are many methods on the market that are not %100 effective, but still prevent pregnancy for thousands of women each day. Probably the most general and well-known of these methods is the use of a condom. There are condoms for men and for women, but the female condom is messy and a little more difficult to use than the male condom, so most couples just use the male condom. The male condom is a piece of material, generally latex, that fits snugly over the penis with a little cup at the end to collect semen. Once correctly in place, the male condom will prevent impregnation about %90-%95 of the time and it also protects against sexually transmitted diseases (5).

The condom is a very obvious form of birth control and for some women it takes some courage to be the assertive partner in a sexual encounter, so there are other more subtle options for women. Women who wish to be in control of their contraceptive methods can be fitted for a diaphragm. A diaphragm is a round rubber device that is inserted into the vagina. Once in place is covers the cervix and blocks incoming sperms to prevent pregnancy (6). The diaphragm is only about %85-%90 effective and so it seems that is becoming less popular as more effective methods are becoming available at a cheaper price.

Chemical contraceptives seem to be on the rise because they are generally more effective and as they become more popular, they are getting cheaper. One of the more long-term forms of birth control is the intrauterine device (IUD). The IUD is a T-shaped piece of metal, usually copper-coated that is inserted into the uterus by a doctor. Once in place, the IUD prevents pregnancy with a very high effectiveness and lasts from 6-10 years. The longer a woman uses the IUD, the more effective it becomes, and so if the unfortunate side effects that the first time uses invokes do not scare the woman off, she will reap the benefits in the long run (7).

Another form of chemical contraceptive is Norplant. This is a type of birth control where match-sized rods are inserted into a woman's arm and then a chemical contraceptive is time released into the woman's system for up to 5 years (8). This type of birth control is expensive, but effective and easy to use. A less severe form of chemical time release is known as Depo-Provera; this is a shot of chemicals that a woman receives every 2-3 months (9). Depo-Provera is around %98 effective as long as the woman gets her shots consistently and it is relatively cheap, compared to daily dose birth control methods.

Most of the birth control methods mentioned already are not threatened by the release of a new once-a-month chemical treatment, except maybe Depo-Provera, but that would be completely dependent on a woman's personal preference and situation. The form of birth control that is really jeopardized by this new treatment is 'the pill.' There are hundreds of brands of the birth control pill because it is the most widely used form of birth control. It is a small dose of hormones (estrogen and progesterone mainly) taken once a day in a 28 day cycle (10). This form of birth control is effective and easy to use, except that a woman has to remember to take the pill every day. This new monthly treatment would serve the same purpose as the pill except there would be fewer hassles for the woman to deal with. In general it seems that the existence of the pill is being threatened by this new method of birth control and the only thing left is the time that it will take for women to become accustomed to the change.

WWW Sources

1)Pharmacia Gets FDA OK for Contraceptive , from Yahoo! News.

2)Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality, from the American Psychological Association.

3)No-Scalpel Vasectomy, from the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

4)Sterilization as permanent birth control, from the Mayo Clinic.

5)Contraceptive Options, from Duke University.

6)Diaphragm and Spermicidal Jelly, from the University of Toronto Sexual Education & Peer Counseling Centre.

7)Intrauterine Device (IUD), from the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

8)Norplant, from the Indiana University Health Center.

9)Cincinnati Women's Services, from the Cincinnati Women's Services of Ohio.

10)Oral Contraceptives, from University of Oregon Student Health Center.

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