“The man who will devise some perfectly certain and simple method by which birth can be put into the control of married people will be as great a benefactor of the human race as Simpson or Lister.” – Lord Buckmaster (House of Lords, 1931)
Throughout history both women and men have tried to get down without getting pregnant in varied – and sometimes quite imaginative – ways. These contraceptive methods have been around for centuries and include using honey as a spermicide, inserting pessaries made of different materials into the vagina, and applying medicated steam to fumigate the vagina before sex (creating a spermicidal atmosphere). Even exercise was recommended at times, with women being advised to jump backwards seven to nine times after completing coitus.
Today, we uterus owners have several birth control methods to choose from. These methods operate in different ways, and have varying degrees of efficacy. This article will compare four popular modes of birth control, examining which methods come out on top, no pun intended.
Condoms vs. The Pull-Out Method
The pull-out method, or as it’s classically known, coitus interruptus, is the withdrawal of the penis from the vagina during sexual intercourse. Of course, withdrawal must occur before ejaculation. This method is believed to be the oldest form of contraception known to man: “…When Onan had sex with his sister-in-law Tamar, he withdrew before a climax and “spilled his seed (semen) on the ground…” (The Bible, Genesis 38:8-10, NIV)
The first known record of condoms or a condom-like barrier method of contraception dates back to as early as 3000 B.C. The mistresses of King Minos of Crete died after having sex with him. The suspected cause was that Minos was believed to have serpents and scorpions in his semen (Ew!). Subsequently, the bladder of a goat was inserted into the vagina of women he had sex with, offering them protection against this disease, and, as an added bonus, protection against pregnancy. Some also believe Minos wore the goat’s bladder around his member.
Today, both condoms and pulling out are still practiced; however, the condom has evolved from goat’s bladder to its modern day latex form (Praise be!).
Although it is generally not regarded as a ‘real’ contraceptive method, a Centre for Disease Control (CDC) report in the US shows 60% of women use withdrawal with 93% of them having partners who use the male condom. A 2014 study in the journal Contraceptive reports that withdrawal, when practiced perfectly, is just as effective as condom use (4% of women become pregnant during sex). In the end, there is no room for error, as the same study shows pregnancy rates increase from 4% to 18% when withdrawal is performed imperfectly. So if withdrawal is your thing, find a penis with perfect self- control is best!
Birth Control Pills vs. Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
Margaret Sanger, who opened the first birth control clinic in the United States (and was jailed for her birth control activism) raised money for a project, which created the first birth control pill in the early 1950s. While we now know Sanger was both a birth control activist and a eugenicist, the pill admittedly changed countless women’s lives. Birth control pills use hormones to prevent pregnancy, and can do so in two ways: prevent ovulation or cause cervical mucus to thicken making it difficult for the sperm to find its way to an egg during ovulation. The CDC reports a 9% failure rate when used correctly (e.g. not missing a pill). The disadvantages of taking birth control pills are its side effects, which include nausea, vomiting, sore breasts and spotting or bleeding between periods. However, these symptoms usually subside within 2-3 months.
The IUD (or intrauterine device) dates back to early 1900s. It is usually a T-shaped device, inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. It does so by releasing either copper or a hormone called progestin into the womb; copper acts as a spermicide and progestin prevents sperm from reaching the egg by thickening cervical mucus. The CDC reports it has less than a 1% failure rate. Plus, an individual IUD lasts 5 to 10 years when inserted correctly. The disadvantages of using IUDs include pain, cramps, spotting between periods and irregular and heavier periods. These usually go away within 3-6 months.
Overall, of the four methods, IUD devices and the pill are more effective than condoms or the pull-out method, when they are performed or implemented correctly. However, birth control is a personal preference. Your choices might depend on a variety of factors, including availability, personal health needs, finance, and cultural beliefs.