Female Contraceptives through the Ages and its Implications
The use of contraceptives has been one of the most controversial issues in history, and this controversy continues in some sectors today. Some people support the idea of contraceptives as a way of family planning, especially in areas that are already densely populated, and where there is a need to control the population. Others oppose the use of contraceptives, especially because of religion. People have realized the importance of birth control for a long time. People realized that they enjoy being intimate with each other, while at the same time control their families and prevent unwanted pregnancies when doing so. One of the most commonly used methods traditionally was withdrawal. It did not require any instruments, applications, or any resources. The only requirement was a strong will on the part of the man, in knowing when to withdraw. Men have traditionally been responsible for birth control methods, because of the use of methods such as withdrawal and the use of condoms.
The issue of birth control has continued to interest many people over the years, and this has led to the development of different contraceptive methods. Some of the methods used traditionally may seem crude in modern times, but the people used them because of necessity. Other methods that have been used have posed grave danger to both the man and the woman. Advances in science, technology, and medicine have led to the development of safer and more effective methods. However, the evolution of the contraceptives seems to have placed greater responsibility on the female. The development of contraceptives have given women a greater choice regarding their sexuality, but many of the methods used continue to have different side effects, which have affected women’s health negatively.
A contraceptive is a device used in the prevention of conception. The contraceptives methods used before involved abstinence and withdrawal (coitus interruptus). Before the advance in medicine, many women took the initiative of developing their own contraceptives. Some women inserted objects into their reproductive systems before having sex. Depending on the substance used, the objects would either block or kill the sperm. Some of the objects reduced the motility of the sperms. Some of the women used pastes made from different substances, such as gum, honey, animal dung and acacia shrub. Some women used plugs such as fabric, different parts of plants, paper, wood, seaweed, and tampons soaked in a solution of salt, oil, and identified acids, which they inserted into their vaginas (Engelman 3).
Many women used the resources that were available in their regions. Others ensured that they washed and douched immediately after sexual intercourse, as a way of preventing intercourse. Some women made teas from different herbs and plants, which served in preventing pregnancies or which induced abortions. They would use poplar, hawthorn bark, and ivy, as they believed that these were sterilizing agents. Some women often used dangerous products such as lead, strychnine, and products containing arsenic, and this often resulted to their deaths (Zoumbaris 119). Others tried to create an unfavorable environment for the sperm by taking water, which had been boiled with copper, or which they got from the cooling buckets of blacksmith. The water contained chemicals that killed the sperms.
Other crude methods used for birth control included using cedar gum to cover the genitals, inserting pomegranate seeds in the vagina, and using vaginal sponges that were soaked in wine (Zoumbaris 120). The first condoms developed were uncomfortable because of the material used for their manufacture. They were made in the sixteenth century, though people had used sheaths as a covering and a form of protection earlier. The initial intention of their development was to prevent venereal diseases. Manufactures made them using skins and bladders from animals or linen. They changed the material to rubber in the nineteenth century, and this led to their mass production. This made them cheaper, and people began using them as contraceptives (Engelman 3-4).
Most of the methods used were harmful, and some of them were obviously painful to the women. There was great reliance on different plant products as contraceptive methods. However, with time, and especially during the industrialization period, many people began looking for ways of developing more effective, less cumbersome, and safer contraceptives. They began searching and experimenting with different materials which could serve as contraceptives. With each subsequent development, people interested in developing contraceptives had to deal with the social and religious pressures, which hindered their efforts. There was much objection from religious people, who saw pregnancy avoidance as a sin, since marriage was often meant to lead to procreation. Many religious people did not advocate for premarital sex then. There was much sexual repression and the people had limited sexual freedom. Many people were able to overcome the barriers they faced, and they continued developing more contraceptives. Moreover, many of the researchers realized the greater commercial value of selling the contraceptives. Many people were willing to try the different contraceptives in the market, because they wanted to enjoy sexual intercourse without any pregnancy concerns.
Wide use of the rubber led to the development of the cervical cap and the diaphragm, although people did not use the contraceptives often. The first intrauterine device was devised in early nineteenth century, but gained acceptance mid nineteenth century after research on new models, which were more effective. More studies on women physiology, especially concerning how women’s hormones functions and the menstrual cycle led to the development of more contraceptives. In addition, organizations such as the UN were concerned with the manner in which the world was growing at a fast rate, and they encouraged more research into the development of contraceptive. Women’s rights were also instrumental in leading the development of contraceptives (Engel 55). Many women equated the use of contraceptives to sexual liberation.
The hormonal contraceptives work by slowing down ovulation, changing the mucus in the cervix, or altering the endometrium. The US allowed the first hormonal contraceptive in the US in 1960 (American Society for Reproductive Medicine S103).The development of the pill was a major breakthrough in contraception. Researchers developed different types of contraceptives, some of which were advances of older technologies, and others which worked in different ways. These included modern IUDs, implants and different condom varieties. The mode of administration of the different contraceptives also changed, and women had the option of being injected or using patches, in addition to the insertions and oral methods used previously. The vagina contraceptive ring is one of the modern contraceptives used. It prevents the release of eggs from the ovaries and it prevents the entry of the sperm to the uterus (Zoumbaris 123). Some contraception methods developed such as tubal ligation and hysterectomy have permanent effects. The development of emergency contraception is another breakthrough. It prevents conception by preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs or by preventing the egg from attaching to the uterine wall. It is most effective when used within seventy two hours of sex. This method is different, in that it enables the woman to have sex first before using protection.
The use of contraceptives has changed human sexuality. Women no longer have to be worried about getting pregnant when they are having sex. Contraceptives have given women greater freedom. Contraceptives have offered several benefits to women, especially in giving them more control over their reproduction, but they have acted in a manner that oppresses women. Some women feel limited by the choices of contraceptives on offer. There are many female contraceptives, and most of them act by interfering with the female hormones. The number of female contraceptives in the market, when compared to contraception options for males shows that women now have greater responsibility in birth control. Most contraceptives interfere with their hormones, and they cause side effects. Women continue making sacrifices so that they can enjoy intimacy with their male partners. When on the pill, the woman ingests hormones that are artificially manufactured. Women have to do this so that they can alter their hormonal balance. Women have to take some form of contraceptive for the rest of their productive years, so long as they do not want to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. The other option involves inserting devices into their bodies, which in itself is not only painful, but it shows the extent that people are willing to go through, in an attempt to stop conception while in need of sexual pleasure.
Many women feel that they have to take the responsibility of birth control because they cannot trust the men to do that. Some women are forced into taking contraceptives and having to deal with the side effects because they have no other choice. Despite the advances in medical technology, research and science, researchers continue focusing on female contraceptives. Men have few options, and they are not bombarded with information on family planning as women are. This is despite the fact that it is relatively easy for men to use contraceptives such as condoms with no side effects on their part. The only side effect that the men report when using condoms is the general lack of sexual pleasure.
The increased and continuous focus on female contraceptives has shifted focus away from the men regarding the use of protection during intercourse. This has not only affected the people involved, but it has also hindered scientific development. Researchers are no longer concerned in finding ways of ensuring that men share in the responsibility of birth control. This is despite the fact that men have declared their willingness in sharing birth control responsibilities with the women, after receiving the necessary education concerning the importance of birth control measures, and the types and consequences of using different perspectives (Engel 52). The enhanced focus on women’s contraception seems to be a further oppression of women, especially considering the limited ability of their productivity. While women can only produce eggs up to a certain age of their lives, men can continue being productive up their old age. Logically, this would mean that greater emphasis for birth control would be placed on the men, especially as a way of controlling the population, but this is not the case.
Despite these sentiments many women continued embracing contraceptives, and they continue using different forms of contraceptives today. With the introduction of the pill, many women felt liberated sexually. They could use the pill without their husband’s or partner’s knowledge, and this enabled them to have greater freedom and control over the number of children they wanted. Part of the reason why some people opposed the use of contraceptives is because women could engage in sexual intercourse without being married. Although some women had practiced this before, many of them had been reluctant to do so because they feared the consequences of the resultant pregnancies. However, this changed with the introduction of the pill, which was more effective and safer compared to the previous methods. Women enjoyed the freedom, once they realized that they did not have to worry about pregnancy. They have continued to enjoy this freedom today. The continued use of the contraceptives, especially among people who are not married, shows how much contraceptives have continued to ensure an equal opportunity for women. No longer are the men the only ones who can dictate the terms of their sexuality, but women can do the same too. Many people continue to hold this belief, and hence the call for the development of safer and more diverse contraceptive options for women.
Birth control has several advantages. It has enabled many people to plan their families. Nowadays, people have greater control in determining the number of children they want. They can continue being intimate without worrying about the unwanted pregnancies. This has not only affected individual families, but it has also benefited governments, by enabling them to control their population. The continuous development of the contraceptive has led to safer methods for the women to avoid pregnancies. This is a far cry from the crude methods used many years ago. The modern contraceptives are less harmful to the woman. The contraceptives benefit women’s health in different ways. For instance, the use of hormonal contraceptives the cancers of the ovaries and endometrium, control menstrual flow, and reduce pain in the pelvic region (American Society for Reproductive Medicine S103).
Some contraceptives also help in preventing sexually transmitted diseases including gonorrhea, HIV, and Chlamydia. Some of the contraceptive methods used help in regulating the menstrual cycle. Others shorten the days that a woman is menstruating by reducing the bleeding, while others help in reducing menstrual cramps. Interest in birth control measures has not only led to the development of contraceptives, but it has also led to greater understanding of human sexuality, especially the female reproductive system. This has led to enhanced understanding of the diseases and infections that affect women, and it has contributed to greater health and wellness.
Birth control measures have some disadvantages. Some birth control measures have negative side effects. They are especially bad on the health of the woman using the contraceptives. Advances in research and science have enabled scientists to develop safer contraceptives. Despite this, some contraceptives continue affecting women’s health negatively. Some women experience weight gain and they bleed irregularly when they use some contraceptives. Other women may experiences headaches, nausea, bad skin reactions and a decrease in sexual desire when using some contraceptives. In addition, some of the contraceptives used delay fertility return, others cause osteoporosis or loss of bone density, and others increase the chances of developing different types of cancers. Some of the contraceptives used increase the chances of a person developing heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. Some religions continue opposing the use of contraceptives because they are concerned about their effects on morals. In some cases, people may refuse to engage in sex because of fear of unwanted pregnancies. However, with the availability of contraceptives, many people do not hesitate to engage in sex.
Female contraception methods differ from the male contraception methods. Contraception methods for men include condoms and vasectomy. Men wear the condom on an erect penis during intercourse, allowing the condom to collect the sperm and ensuring that none of the sperm enters the woman’s body. This helps in preventing pregnancy while at the same time preventing sexually transmitted infections. Male condoms have undergone significant development since they were first developed. This has enabled the reduction of some of the side effects associated with wearing condoms such as unpleasantness and allergies. Latex condoms help in the prevention of disease. Some men and women are allergic to latex. These allergies can cause irritation in some people, or even death in some cases, and this has necessitated the development of condoms using other materials such as polyurethane. The condoms are cheap and readily available. Men do not need to see a professional or follow complicated instructions when using condoms. Like most other contraceptives men need to know how to use the condoms well to increase their effectiveness. Failure to do this will result in greater difficulty when using the condoms, and in spillage. These features of the condom differ from female contraceptives. Women often have to seek the help and guidance of professionals when using condoms. Although this may not be an issue to all women, some women would like the freedom of using a safe and effective contraception with minimal side effects without having to consult a health professional.
Vasectomy is a surgical procedure that prevents the release of the sperm from the testes and from reaching the woman’s egg. It involves cutting off the doctus deferens. Techniques such as the no scalpel technique are safer since they reduce the blood loss of the procedure, in addition to minimizing infections. In many cases, vasectomy is an irreversible process. Although some men have grown to accept the practice, others do not consider it because they think that it will make them feel less masculine. Men like the feeling of being in control, and this includes controlling their sexuality. Vasectomy denies the men this chance because it renders them infertile. Men may need to use some other form of contraceptive the first few days after surgery if they intend on being intimate, because some sperm may have been left over in the area near the penis. Most men feel a sense of unease some few days after the surgery but they heal quickly. Vasectomy does not affect any of the male hormones. This is different from many female contraceptives, which tend to interfere with the female hormones.
Contraceptives have evolved over the years. This evolution has led to the development of safer and more effective contraceptives. It has also increased the choices that people have regarding their reproduction and sexuality. Researchers have placed greater focus on female contraceptives. They have developed many different methods of contraceptives, using different materials in their manufacture, and increasing the mode of administration. Despite the advances in medicine, science and research, different contraceptives have diverse side effects, and they continue to affect women’s health negatively. Researchers continue depending on the use of artificial hormones. Limited options remain for male contraceptives, with most men preferring to use condoms. Some few men have however embraced vasectomy.
People have different perceptions concerning the effect of contraceptives on women. On one hand, the development of contraceptives has provided women with greater equality because they are more liberated sexually and they can make decisions regarding their sexuality without consulting their partners. On the other hand, some women feel that contraceptives are oppressing. They have to ensure that they protect themselves constantly if they do not want to get pregnant. They also have to deal with the side effects of the different methods used. The fact that most contraception methods that women use require professional guidance means that they continue exposing their bodies to others, and they are not in total control of their bodies. Despite the limitations and weaknesses of contraceptives, they have changed human sexuality and they have benefited many people.
American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “Hormonal Contraception: Recent Advances and Controversies.” Fertility and Sterility 90.3 (2008): S103-S13. Print
Engel, Marian. Encyclopedia of Birth Control. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. Print
Engelman, C. Peter. A History of the Birth Control Movement in America. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Print
Page, T. Stephanie, John K. Amory and William J. Bremner. “Advances in Male Contraception.” Endocrine Reviews 29.4 (2008): 465-493. Print
Zoumbaris, K. Sharon. Encyclopedia of Wellness. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2012. Print
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