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Birth Control Overview

Birth Control Introduction

The practice of birth control or preventing pregnancy is as old as human existence. For centuries, humans have relied upon their imagination to avoid pregnancy.  

  • Egyptian ancient writings dating back to 1850 BC refer to techniques using a device placed in a woman’s vagina made of crocodile dung and fermented dough, which most likely created a hostile environment for sperm. Other items placed in the vagina included plugs of gum, honey, and acacia.

  • During the early second century in Rome, a highly acidic concoction of fruits, nuts, and wool was placed on the cervix as a type of spermicidal barrier.

Today, the voluntary control of fertility is of paramount importance to modern society. From a global perspective, countries currently face the crisis of rapid growth of the human population that has begun to threaten human survival. According to the Population Reference Bureau's 2003 World Population Data Sheet, the world's current growth rate is 1.3%. Based on this growth rate, the population would double in 53.8 years. The less developed world's natural increase rate (births minus deaths, without migration) is 1.6%; therefore, population in these countries would double in 43.8 years. See Population Reference Bureau's 2003 World Population Data Sheet for more information. The United Nations lists a growth rate of 2.41% for the least developed countries, which would imply that at the current rate, populations in these nations would double in 29 years. See the United Nations Population Database. Keep in mind that doubling time cannot be used to project future population size because it assumes a constant growth rate over decades when growth rates are constantly changing. Nevertheless, these figures do provide a picture of how fast the population is growing at present.

For the individual woman, the effective ability to control when and whether she becomes pregnant affects her ability to achieve her own goals and contribute to her sense of well-being. A woman’s choice of birth control method involves factors such as how easy it is to use, safety, risks, cost, and personal considerations.

This overview discusses the main methods of contraception (birth control) used in the United States and their advantages and disadvantages. 

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