In order to discuss contraception, pregnancy, and all things related over the next few months, I think it is important that we discuss a few important terms so that everyone has access to the same frame of reference later on.
By definition, contraception is the “deliberate prevention of conception or impregnation by any of various drugs, techniques, or devices.” (Dictionary.com) However, recent debates, including the recent Hobby Lobby decision, debate when pregnancy even begins. Many pro-life advocates suggest that pregnancy begins at conception, the meeting of sperm and ovum. Medical professionals, particularly obstetricians and gynecologists, assert that pregnancy begins at about week 3 of gestation, when the fertilized egg implants itself into the uterine lining.
Contraception thus prohibits pregnancy from occurring either by blocking ovulation or conception. Oral contraception, most commonly referred to as “the pill,” is a mixture of the female hormones progesterone and estrogen. The pill not only prevents ovulation (the release of ovum from the ovary), but changes the uterine lining. (National Library of Medicine, 2012) Unbeknownst to many women, there are various doses and mixes of hormones to suit everyone’s needs. The pill not not allow conception to occur, thus no pregnancies. (If used properly, oral contraception has an over 97% effectiveness rate, however, there is always that 3% chance. Please make sure that you are using your contraception properly, and consult with a medical professional.)
Of course, there are still barrier methods like male and female condoms that have histories of their own. Medical technology has evolved so far as to provide long term contraception in the form of injections (4-12 weeks) and implants that are effective up to three years.
Recently, abortifacients have gotten into the limelight, as abortifacients are substances that eliminate a new embryo. The recent Hobby Lobby decision put IUDs in the same spotlight as emergency contraception although IUDs are most commonly used as long term contraception. IUDs (inter-uterine devices) are small T-shaped devices inserted through the cervix into the uterus, and are either plastic and hormone excreting, or constructed of copper. IUDs prevent sperm from meeting the egg, as copper is a spermicide. IUDs that contain hormones alter uterine lining and cervical mucus so that sperm cannot meet an egg. Controversially, IUDs can be inserted after unprotected sex and act as emergency contraception before being left in for longer contraception, as IUDs can be left in upwards of ten years.
Abortifacients and emergency contraception are not completely the same. Emergency contraception blocks conception if it has not already occurred, and is taken within 72 hours of unprotected coitus. However, if fertilization has occurred already, emergency contraception can create a miscarriage, or will not be effective. Results vary per the type of emergency contraception, like an IUD, Ella, or Plan-B. (Again, should you need this, please consult with your doctor or pharmacist to determine what is right for you, your body, and your situation.)
This blog is intended to give basic awareness of the different forms of contraception. Over the next few months, we will explore the types more intimately.
Until then, let’s get the conversation rolling with a simple question! Where do you get your information in regards to contraception: female friends, your doctor, or the internet?
Until next time!
Graduate student intern
Case Western Reserve University
Questions can be posted in the comment area below, or directed to MuseumofMotherhood@gmail.com