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What are the benefits of abstinence?

The very first thing that everyone needs to think about and acknowledge is the fact that, even in the twenty-first century, abstinence[1] is the "gold standard" when it comes to contraception. Simply stated, if your daughter doesn't engage in sexual activity of any kind, she won't get pregnant and she won't be exposing herself to sexually transmitted diseases. No one can make that claim for any other type of contraception method. Period.

Now, some people will claim that advocating abstinence is unrealistic and naive. That's certainly true when we're talking about the population as a whole. The plain truth is that a lot of young people are going to have sex regardless of their parents' wishes and actions. But abstinence can be the right choice for any particular individual. We do our daughters a grave disservice if we don't discuss with them our morals and our values when it comes to sexual activity, and part of that discussion needs to be about the unique benefits of abstinence.

If, however, your daughter chooses to engage in sexual intercourse, she should be fully aware of her options when it comes to birth control. There are a lot of choices out there. In fact, the various forms of birth control can be grouped into seven categories. These are: rhythm, withdrawal, barrier, hormonal, emergency, intrauterine devices, and permanent. Let's go through them one at a time.

What is the rhythm method?

In order to be able to successfully use this method, a woman needs to be familiar with the length of her menstrual cycle, and she needs to be able to notice changes indicating ovulation[2]. Specifically, with the rhythm method a woman has to track her basal body temperature[3] and engage in cervical mucus[4] monitoring to figure out when she's fertile[5]. Then she has to make sure that she doesn't have intercourse during the time that the egg[6] is present so that she can avoid becoming pregnant.

Because of the imprecision and difficulties inherent to such an approach, it's been reported that the failure of the rhythm method can be as high as 25%.

I certainly don't recommend the rhythm method to my young patients. They're typically not willing to put in the effort to monitor their body changes, their menstrual cycles often are not as regular as older women's, and too often their sexual desires overpower what their bodies are telling them about their fertility.

What is coitus interruptus?

Coitus interruptus is also known as the "withdrawal method." This method of birth control has been around for thousands of years and is still used today by millions and millions of couples worldwide.

The effectiveness of this method is dependent upon whether the male maintains sufficient control that he can completely pull his penis out of his partner's vagina (and away from her vulva) before he ejaculates. However, even if he can, there still remains one small problem— sperm[7]. These "little fellas" sometimes decide to hitch a ride in the man's pre-ejaculate fluid, and then are deposited in the woman's vagina, thus potentially fertilizing her egg.

The perfect use failure rate for the withdrawal method is estimated at 4%. However, researchers have found that the typical failure rate can be as much as 27%.

  • [1] The act of not participating in sexual activity.
  • [2] The release of the egg from the ovary that occurs monthly. The egg is then picked up by the fallopian tube and awaits fertilization.
  • [3] The early morning temperature of the human body.
  • [4] The mucus in the cervical canal that is produced by cervical glands and provides protection against pelvic infections and pregnancy. Cervical mucus changes temporarily during ovulation to enhance the chance of pregnancy.
  • [5] The ability to get pregnant without difficulty.
  • [6] Found in the ovary, the egg is a microscopic cell that is released from the ovary at the time of ovulation. The egg contains the woman's genetic material and combines with the sperm to form the embryo.
  • [7] The cells in the semen that fertilize the female egg. Sperm contain the father's genetic material.
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