Condoms can be traced back 5000 years to ancient Egypt. They were made of animal hide or intestine, and lacked modern day sophistication, but still had the same purpose. The condom’s popularity has waxed and waned, but people have never stopped trying to control their reproductive destinies. Many ancient populations realized the effects that different medicines have upon pregnancy and would use plants ranging from common cotton to Queen Anne’s lace (easily mistaken for Hemlock, which is just straight up bad for you) to prevent or dispose of unwanted pregnancies. Through urban myth, abortion, infanticide and penny potions we have steadily produced more and more efficient ways of waiting until the time is right.
The most common form of birth control in our modern world is the IUD, primarily used in Europe and Asia. The non-hormonal form is highly effective, with minor risks. It prevents pregnancy by stopping the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine walls. There is also a hormonal form of the IUD, which is by far the most effective form of birth control out there. In North America the most common form of birth control is the pill.
Since the pill became legal there has been a significant amount of research done about the hormonal effects on women, and for the most part it seems the outcomes have been extremely positive. Birth control has been shown to significantly decrease both ovarian and endometrial cancer, up to 80% for those who have been on it for 10 years or more, and gives only a slight increase to the chance of cervical cancer, a chance that bases out soon after stopping birth control. Birth control has also been shown to help stabilize mood swings, and help clear up bad skin. There are risks – blood clots and weight gain (a difficulty losing weight would be more accurate) but these risks are significantly lower than a pregnant woman would suffer. There’s also the risk of sexual problems: muted orgasm, reduced sex drive and pain during sex, all of which would be no fun. Many women, however, feel the benefits of the pill, most especially related to fertility, greatly outweigh the risks. Modern science has created a variety of ways to get the necessary hormones; vaginal rings, patches, and injections; as well as many non-hormonal forms of birth control such female condoms, plan B, diaphragms and tubal litigation, and research is always continuing to make better products.
The richer a country gets, the more its birthrate tends to drop. Most of Africa has been experiencing population explosions. Africa is home to roughly 1/7th of the world’s population, but it is estimated that half of the people born in the next 40 years will be African. This is a subject of great contestation between people all over the world. Many, such as Melinda Gates, think it is important to allow Africans the opportunity to curb this massive growth. She has helped billions of dollars be funded into birth control options for women in developing nations. Many Africans, however, consider this meddling in African affairs to be yet another form of imperialistic control which skitters the human rights line. Some have even stated that her actions execute forms of gender bias and eugenics. This side of the argument thinks that Africans should be allowed to solve their own problems, and educate people in the way they see fit. Many African countries, especially Nigeria, are hoping to soon become world powers and see this money as yet another way for rich nations of the world to curb African progress.
There are many other problems that come into play with birth control in Africa. Safe disposal of the drugs, for example. Not only would excess birth control pills need to be disposed of, but the hormones which women excrete during urination would be introduced into the water system. A Canadian study mimicked the effect that the pill has in urban cities by placing similar quantities of the pill into a secluded lake. Almost 1/3 of the male fish exposed to these high levels of estrogen were found with eggs in their testes. Easy access to birth control also runs the risk of forcing African countries to deal with problem of aging populations. In many other countries in the world pensions are beginning to run out and many young people are beginning to feel the burden of caring for seniors.
Many Africans argue that instead of spending billions of dollars on birth control the money should instead go to food programs, education and micro-businesses, as well as programs that protect abused women; the ones victimized by prostitution, forced marriages and violence; rather than women who are concerned with how many children they will have. Many others argue that programs should exist that emphasize chastity (this has been tried in many countries, notably America, and it has failed miserably, but who knows if it might not work better in a different culture.) These people are afraid that birth control will lead to infidelity, disease and neighborhoods that lack the soothing sound of children’s laughter.
Pro-birth control advocates, however, have some powerful arguments. 358,000 women and 3 million newborns die each year worldwide due to pregnancy and childbirth. 10 to 15 percent of those numbers are believed to be deaths caused by unsafe abortions. 49 million unintended pregnancies every year result in 21 million abortions, many of which are also unsafe because of restrictive laws. In many countries women do not or cannot choose contraception because of health fears (most of which are erroneous), culturally infused biases, lack of access (some must travel days to the nearest city to find adequate preventative measures), high cost and opposition from their partners and society. Women get pregnant and must deal with the consequences: either the emotional consequences of an abortion, or the emotional and financial consequences of a child. Overpopulation is another growing concern. It is getting harder and harder to feed so many people, and the environmental side-effects of our rampant reproduction are beginning to be noticed. Some argue that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and future generations will find solutions, but this seems to be a half-analyzed argument. Knowingly creating problems for our descendants to deal with creates a system of problem-dodging which can only lead to a cataclysmic dead-end.
It’s a strange thing that seems to happen when women are allowed to decide whether or not they will have children. Women on birth control are more likely to finish school. And when they do decide to have children they are more likely to be financially and emotionally prepared. Their children reap the benefits of their parents patience and are more likely themselves to do better in life. These women who were allowed to choose what happens in their bodies are also able to further their careers, and advance the state of women as a whole. Imagine if the need for contraception that exists were met; imagine there were 53 million less unplanned pregnancies, 25 million less abortions, and 7 million less miscarriages. Imagine saving the lives of tens of thousands of women per year as well as averting hundreds of thousands of newborn deaths. Imagine women that could have sex freely, without the monthly worry of an unwanted child; women who weren’t forced to abstain because they already have one child, and they aren’t quite ready for a second.
Birth control is generally considered to be a ‘woman’s issue’. The only realistic options for men at this juncture are condoms and vasectomies. Condoms are just an all around good idea, but are by no means perfect, some reports give them a failure rate as high as 15%. Vasectomies, with a little squirming room for doctor error and the body’s incredible ability to heal, are incredibly effective. Almost 100% effective. Which is too effective. Vasectomies are a terrible short-term choice. They are difficult to reverse, and doing so can cause a myriad of problems. Unless a man knows without any doubt that he will never, ever have children a vasectomy is a risky option.
Cue RISUGs (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance), the current leader of which is known as Vasalgel: an almost 100% effective, cheap, reliable, fully reversible form of birth control for men that has been around for almost 30 years. Doctors have figured out a way to inject a polymer gel into the vas deferens which, over the course of a couple of days, creates a sperm shredding tube around the inner lining. The procedure takes about 15 minutes, lasts 10 years and costs less than 100$. Think of how many babies people could not have for 100$! Trials are currently happening in India, with hopes that the product will be available to the rest of the world by 2015. 25 years of tests have shown the procedure to be safe for both humans and animals. Ready to have babies? Another quick shot, this time baking soda and water, flushes out the system and within 3 months it’s baby making time. Did I mention that there’s also some evidence that RISUGs simultaneously kills off HIV?
I’ve heard good and bad things about pills and IUDs. Some of my friends couldn’t go without them, and I have no babies so I’m a big fan. But there’s always the fear that something went wrong. The fear that the one day my girlfriend forgot to take her pill was our undoing, or that the pill had slowly been making her sick. I’m sure there’s some risk involved with RISUGs, but they seem insignificant to the many of the risks that women have to take with hormone control. And you can’t beat the convenience, one shot every ten years. This quick procedure could work miracles, especially in places where going to get birth control every couple of months is a hassle. Most importantly it puts some of the burden of reproductive responsibility on men. It isn’t enough that we just carry around a condom and call it a day.
I’m not saying everybody should use birth control. If people want to have eight babies and they have the means to support them, then they should have a great time. But if people don’t want children then options should be available to them. And if that’s their choice then Vasalgel is an incredible preventative measure. Birth control can save lives. It can make lives easier. It allows people to make choices, and divides responsibility. Tell your husbands. Tell your boyfriends. Tell your brothers, your cousins, your nieces and nephews. Tell everyone. The onus of responsible procreation is on all of us.
Wanna see a fun, nutritional example of how Vasalgel works? Click on the link below.
And some other stuff