Birth control has several different meanings. When used as a synonym for fam- ily planning, it refers to control over the number or spacing of children using various methods to either prevent or control the frequency of pregnancy. When used as a synonym for contraception, birth control refers strictly to the preven- tion of pregnancy. Contraceptives are the means by which pregnancies are prevented.
Most polls on sexual behavior show that more than half of all American teenagers are sexually active by age 17. However, polls also show that only one third of all parents talk to their children about birth control, and two thirds of all sexually active teenagers never or rarely use contraceptives. This lack of com- munication may partly explain why there are about one million unwanted teenage pregnancies each year in the United States.
Taking Responsibility for Birth Control
Couples have attempted to control conception throughout the centuries using a variety of techniques, such as eating special herbs, performing religious rituals, or timing sexual intercourse with different phases of the moon. But safe and effective methods of contraception have been available only since 1930.
There is no such thing as an ideal method of contraception, and every method has its advantages and disadvantages. When choosing which method to use, you and your partner should weigh the advantages, disadvantages, and side effects of each method, taking into account your religious and moral values as well as per- sonal and aesthetic factors.
Although most methods of contraception can be used without medical advice, you still should have a clear understanding of the female reproductive system and the menstrual cycle. Such knowledge not only increases the chances of suc- cess with the method you choose but also can enhance your sexual satisfaction. The method you choose will not be effective unless it is used correctly and con- sistently. Both partners need to share responsibility for birth control.
Methods of Birth Control
In choosing a method of birth control or contraception, you and your partner should understand the following:
• how the method works
• how and when to use it
• reasons for not using it
• undesirable side effects of the method and what, if anything, can be done about them
• the effectiveness rate of the method
There are many different birth control methods. They include oral contra- ceptives, hormone implants and injectable contraceptives, barrier methods, intrauterine devices, rhythm methods, and surgical sterilization.