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Human sexuality and gender topics

Preventing pregnancies via abstinence
& birth control (a.k.a. contraception)

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In ancient times:

Ancient civilizations generally promoted childbirth -- for a variety of reasons.

bulletA woman needed to have many children in order to have at least two survive to adulthood.
bulletAncient tribes were often surrounded on all sides by other groups with whom they went to war. A high birth rate was needed to create an effective army,
bulletLife 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 while their parents were still alive.

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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 to married couples. Churches gave fertile couples two choices: abstinence or enforced continual pregnancies. The Church of England deviated from this teaching in 1930 when they approved the use of birth control in certain specific situations. Almost all other 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 national average.

Governments in have drastically altered their policies. Twenty five years ago, some criminalized 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 teen pregnancies.

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Today:

Several factors now promote the use of birth control:

One major concern is that overpopulation places excessive stress on the environment, speeding up its degradation and global warming.

A second major concern is the increasing gap between:

bulletThe menarche (first menstruation) in girls and puberty in boys -- typically 12 years of age 1 -- and
bulletAge of first marriage.

In ancient times, this 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 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 are currently 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. Most youth reject the idea of sexual abstinence before marriage -- in excess 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.

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Contraceptives and abortifacients:

Contraceptives prevent pregnancy. Some are in the form of medication. Others, including condoms and IUDs (Intra-Uterine Deivece), take the form of a contraceptive device.  They inhibit pregnancy by preventing:

bulletOvulation (the release of an ovum from an ovary) and/or
bulletConception (the joining of a spermatozoa from a male with an ovum), and/or
bulletThe implantation of the resulting fertilized ovum (more correctly called a zygote) in the wall of the uterus.

Unlike contraceptives,  abortifacients interrupt a pregnancy which is already in progress. i.e. they cause the implanted zygote, or embryo or or fetus to be rejected by the woman's body.

Religious conservatives and pro-lifers generally define the start of pregnancy and the start of human personhood as happening at the instant of conception. Religious liberals, physicians, fertility researchers, biologists, etc. generally define pregnancy as beginning when the zygote is implanted in the lining of the womb; they often define human personhood as developing later in pregnancy. This difference in definitions can cause some conservatives to define an emergency contraception pill like Plan B as a potential abortifacient. This is because it prevents an already-fertilized ovum from implanting in the womb. Meanwhile, some liberals, pro-choicers, and others define it as a contraceptive medication. To the former group, a pill may murder a helpless human at its most vulnerable state; to the latter, the same pill simply prevents a group of undifferentiated cells from implantation -- i.e. it avoids the start of a pregnancy. 1

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Falling age at puberty," The INFO project, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health at: http://www.infoforhealth.org/
  2. Nicholas Bakalar, "New Findings Add Nuance to Discussion of Early Sex," New York Times, 2007-JUN-05, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  3. "Estimated Median Age at First Marriage," U.S. Census Bureau, Page 7, at: www.census.gov/ This is a Microsoft Power Point presentation that may require downloading of a free PP viewer.
  4. Sheri & Bob Stritof, "Estimated Median Age at First Marriage, by Sex: 1890 to Present," About.com: Marriage, at: http://marriage.about.com/

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Site navigation:

 Home > Christianity > Christian history, belief... > Beliefs > Sex > here

Home > Christianity > History, practices... > Christian practices > Sex > here

Home > Religious Information > Christian practices > Sex > here

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Copyright 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-NOV-09
Latest update: 2007-DEC-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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