There are three main categories of people who choose to use. First there are starters—those who have not yet had a child, and who want to delay a while before they start having children. Secondly there are spacers, those who have had one or more children, and who plan to have another one or more, but who want to wait a while in between. Thirdly there are the stoppers, those who have had all the children they feel are right and who don’t plan ever to conceive again. Couples who choose childlessness are a mixture of the first and last categories — they haven’t yet conceived, but they don’t plan to in the future.
These varying reasons forhave very different effects on such things as how efficient a method the couple wants, how motivated they will be to use it correctly (or at all), how they will cope with an unplanned pregnancy. Age is also an important factor, and so is the length of time you have been married. For instance, a couple who marry at eighteen and don’t want their first child yet are different from a couple who marry at thirty and don’t want to conceive immediately. A couple who have been married for five years will be more relaxed with each other sexually and less embarrassed about using methods such as caps and sheaths than two young newly-weds. Also a couple of thirty who have not yet had children present different requirements from a couple of thirty who have four children.
The failure rates of different methods of contraception are an important factor — again, more important to some couples than others, and more important at some stages of an individual marriage than others. An unplanned baby whose arrival would be near-disaster after ten months of marriage may be accommodated without a second thought after ten years; or a baby that would have been welcomed at twenty-five may cause great strains if it arrives at thirty-five. It is vital to remember, when you are considering the effectiveness of various contraceptives, that the failures are not statistics. They are pregnancies — unplanned babies which have to be faced up to and coped with. The success rate of many contraceptives depends a great deal on motivation; the more complicated the method, the more this holds true. Caps require more motivation than pills; rhythm methods require more motivation than caps. If it is very important to you not to get pregnant at a particular time, for example in early marriage, in late marriage, while one of you is finishing education, or during financial hardship, then either use a very reliable method or use a less reliable method very conscientiously. Poor contraceptive protection (and lots of pregnancies) can come from using an inefficient method, or using an efficient method carelessly.
There are various kinds of risks which have to be balanced against one another when making your choice of contraceptive. Some methods involve a risk, great or slight, to the health of the husband or wife. Others involve a high risk of pregnancy, which in itself may expose the mother to physical problems or cause emotional or psychological strain on the marriage. A third type of risk is to the health of any child conceived accidentally while using the method. The moral and ethical considerations of the various methods are also very important, and the practicalities of different contraceptives need to be considered carefully.
The possible physical risks of the method of contraception are not the only matters to be taken into account, although they are usually the ones which get the most publicity. Several researchers have pointed out that the ‘safest’ contraceptive plan, that with the smallest risk of danger to the woman and the highest protection against the birth of unplanned babies, is for the couple to use a simple barrier method and then for the woman to have a legal abortion if she becomes pregnant. Obviously this idea is horrific to most couples, not just to Christians, but it is the safest — therefore safety is not necessarily the factor of paramount importance, or this would be the preferred choice. All of the relevant factors have to be weighed and pondered and discussed prayerfully, so that you choose a method you are both happy with before God.
It can seem that there is an overt concentration on the woman as the one responsible for contraception. This has happened for various reasons. It is the woman who becomes pregnant, and so she has a greater natural reason for choosing to delay pregnancy if the couple is not ready, or if she wants to recover her health between babies. She is also released by effective contraception from the constant fear of pregnancy, and free to enjoy lovemaking. Women have been striving for several decades to gain their true,freedom to enjoy their sexuality.
In addition there are purely practical reasons for concentrating on the woman’s system when thinking about contraception. It is far easier to suppress or protect from fertilization twelve or thirteen eggs every year than it is to suppress or restrain the millions of sperm that a man manufactures every day. Nevertheless, contraception is always a concern for both partners; it takes two people to conceive a baby, and the co-operation of two people to prevent conception. Contraception will be most effective when both partners are equally happy with and committed to the chosen method, and any extra effort or consideration that it involves. A woman who is always expected to assume the responsibility for choosing and using contraception without the support of her husband will soon become resentful of his seeming lack of care and concern. The marriage as a whole will be on a much better foundation if this aspect, as any other important part of the marriage, is shared.
So how should you choose the method that is right for you at this stage of your marriage? There are several things that you will find helpful. You may already have a method or two in mind, but do read about the alternatives too; some methods might be easier or more complicated than you imagined, or have practical or ethical implications you hadn’t realized. Talk to sympathetic Christian couples; it’s not an easy subject to bring up, but many couples who are already married are open to sharing their experiences with particular methods of contraception, and their advice can be invaluable. If you know a Christian doctor trained in family planning, talk to him or her as well. If you want to use one of the methods that requires medical or other trained supervision, then talk to the appropriate family planning practitioner. You may discover that you are medically unsuited to a particular type of contraceptive; the details listed under each method will probably give you a clue about this. An absolute contraindication for a method means that under no circumstances should you use it, as it will present a grave risk. A relative contraindication means that it may be feasible to use the method if you are kept under close medical supervision, or if you take extra health precautions, or it may mean that another method is more suitable.
Also, pray together to ask God to show you which way of regulating your fertility he wants you to use at this stage. Your choice now doesn’t have to be your choice forever; many couples use a variety of methods at different stages of their marriage. Finally, it is very important that you talk honestly together over some of the implications of contraception, having children, pregnancy etc. Here are some of the questions you can usefully ask yourselves and each other; the honest answers may surprise you as much as they surprise your partner.
- Do we want to have children? If so, when?
- How important is it that we don’t conceive before then?
- What will we do if we conceive an unplanned baby?
- Does either of us want to complete any education or training before we have a child?
- How many children do we want eventually?
- How far apart do we want them?
- Are there any methods of contraception I instinctively dislike?
- Are there any methods I instinctively favour?
- Will the method we’re considering make sex less pleasurable for either of us?
- Do we have any absolute contraindications to the method?
- Are we emotionally suited to the method?
- Are there any dangers to an unborn child?
- Are there any undesirable side-effects?
- Do I feel at peace with myself about this method?
- Do I feel at peace with God about this method?
- Does my partner feel at peace with this method?
- Will this method be inconvenient to obtain?
- Will this method be expensive?
- What are the alternatives?