Human sexuality and gender topics
Preventing and ending pregnancies
using birth control (a.k.a. contraception)
This essay is currently being updated
In ancient times:
Ancient civilizations generally promoted childbirth -- for a variety of reasons.
||A woman needed to have many children in order to have at least two
survive to adulthood.
||Ancient tribes were often surrounded on all sides by other aggressive groups. A high birth rate was needed to create an effective
army for defense and offense,
||Life expectancy was quite short -- on the order of 30 years. Women were
typically married shortly after puberty and had children quickly so that the
latter would grow to adulthood before their parents died of "old age."
During the 20th Century:
Almost all faith groups in North America, Canada, and the UK, until the early 20th century, a were
opposed to the sale and use of contraceptives, even by married couples. Churches
gave fertile couples two choices: abstinence or enforced continual pregnancies. Both are major stressors that can adversely affect marriages.
of England bravely deviated from this teaching in 1930 when they approved the use of
birth control in certain specific situations. Almost all other Protestant faith groups
quickly followed the lead of the Church of England in subsequent years. Today, the Roman
Catholic Church is the only large faith group in North America that still tries
to ban the use of birth
control among their membership. They are not notably successful at this,
because the birth rate among Catholic couples is almost identical to the
Governments in have drastically altered
their policies. Twenty five years ago, some prohibited the open display of
contraceptives in pharmacies. Now, these same governments are actively promoting
their use to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted
Several factors now promote the use of birth control or abstinence:
One major concern is that overpopulation places excessive stress on the
environment, speeding up its degradation and
A second major concern is the increasing gap between:
||The menarche (first menstruation) in girls and puberty in boys --
typically 12 years of age 1 -- and
||Age of first marriage.
In ancient times, the gap was measured in months. Today, it is typically on the
order of 15 years.
The age at menarche is currently decreasing
perhaps due to better nutrition during childhood and increasing levels of
sex hormones in the environment. Most teens now become sexually active in high
school. One study of sexual intercourse among American teens showed that:
"The average age at first sex varied with ethnicity, from 15.2 years
to 17.5, with blacks having sex at the youngest ages and Asians at the
oldest. Lower family income also predicted sex at an earlier age." 2
The median age of first marriage in the U.S. is about 27 for men and 25
for women. 3,4 These ages
have been increasing about 8 months per decade. 4
This is an interval of time when many individuals wish to remain
childless, in order to pursue an education and become established in a
career before setting down and starting a family. Almost all youths and young adults reject the idea of
sexual abstinence before marriage. On the order of 95% of individuals at first
marriage are non-virgins. Many feel that birth control is a priority in order to
prevent pregnancy before marriage.
Confusion about contraceptives and abortifacients:
Contraceptives, like condoms, prevent pregnancy. Abortifacients, like RU-486 (called Mifegymiso in Canada) end an established pregnancy.
Some are in the form of medication. Others,
including condoms and IUDs (Intra-Uterine Device), take the form
of contraceptive devices. They work in different ways:
||Some delay ovulation (the release of an ovum from an ovary).
||Some inhibit conception (the process by which a spermatozoon joins with an ovum to produce a zygote with a unique DNA).
||Some inhibit the implantation of the resulting blastocyst in the wall of the uterus. (A blastocyst is what a zygote becomes over time as it travels down a woman's fallopian tube as a result of multiple cell divisions)
||Some cause an blastocyst that has already implantated in the wall of the uterus do die.
||Some work in more than one of these ways.
Unfortunately, there is no concensus about the definition when pregnancy and human personhood begins:
- Religious conservatives and pro-lifers generally define the start of
pregnancy -- and the start of human personhood -- as both happening during the process of
conception. They often refer to this as "the instant of conception." However, in reality, conception actually takes hours.
- Religious liberals, and pro-choicers generally use the definition of the start of pregnancy as used by physicians, fertility researchers, biologists,
etc.: i.e. pregnancy begins when the blastocyst is implanted in the
lining of the womb. They often define human personhood as developing later in
To further confuse matters, when Emergency Contraception (EC) was originally developed, the precise mechanism(s) by which it worked was unknown. There were originally suspected to be three possibilities. EC might:
- Delay ovulation,
- Prevent conception, and/or
Inhibit implantation of the blastocyst in the inner wall of the uterus: 1
Further research revealed that the third possibility was extremely unlikely or impossible. However, most religious and social conservatives rejected this evidence and still proclaim that EC often works by preventing implantation.
- Since most religious conservatives and pro-lifers regard pregnancy as beginning at conception, and they further believe that EC sometimes or always prevents implantation, then they conclude that EC can or always acts to terminate a pregnancy. They regard it as a potential abortifacient. Some say that it is always an abortifacient.
- Most religious liberals and secularists regard pregnancy as beginning at implantation. They recognize that EC always or almost always works by delaying ovulation or preventing conception. There is some evidence that if the blastocyst reaches the uterus, EC might even encourage implantation. So, they regard EC as a true contraceptive.
Thus, whether emergency contraception (EC) pills like Plan B as a contraceptive or an abortifacient often depends upon a person's religious beliefs. It might take many years to resolve this conflict.
Still another complication is that originally, in the United States, the FDA required manufaturers of EC to print a statement on the box stating that the pills might prevent implantation. The manufacturers have asked to have this requirement lifted, but have not been successful.
Preventing pregnancies among teens:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Falling age at puberty," The INFO project, Johns Hopkins School of
Public Health at:
Nicholas Bakalar, "New Findings Add Nuance to Discussion of Early
Sex," New York Times, 2007-JUN-05, at:
"Estimated Median Age at First Marriage," U.S. Census Bureau, Page
www.census.gov/ This is a Microsoft Power Point presentation that
may require downloading of a free PP
Sheri & Bob Stritof, "Estimated Median Age at First Marriage, by
Sex: 1890 to Present," About.com: Marriage, at:
Maria Isabel Rodriguez, "5 myths about the emergency contraceptive pill, busted," Bedsider, 2016-JUN-23, at: https://bedsider.org/
Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2007-NOV-09
Latest update: 2007-DEC-15
Author: B.A. Robinson