Risky Business

By Anna Sachse

Posted September 24, 2009 in Mind Body Spirit

There are condoms, there are birth control pills, patches and shots, there are diaphragms and sponges, there are IUDs, there is sterilization and there is abstinence. Except for abstinence, which is 100-percent safe, chances are slim that a woman will get pregnant if she and her partner use one of the aforementioned birth control methods, and use it correctly. 


But then there are the other “methods.” I put this word in quotes because, in my opinion, these “methods”—pulling out, the rhythm method—are a little too risky to label birth control at all. They are more like the I-hope-to-hell-it-doesn’t-happen-and-I-also-believe-that-someday-Americans-will-care-more-about-politics-and-the-environment-than-Heidi-and-Spencer methods. 


Regardless, people still use these techniques, so I’m going to provide a little info on what the odds of getting pregnant are, and how best to skew them in your favor. Please don’t view this as an endorsement. It’s not. It’s just advice on how to be a lighter shade of stupid.


So then, the first thing I’d like to point out is that these methods do zilch to protect you from STDs. The same can be said for other birth control methods, but I doubt you’ll feel very indignant about that fact if you get HIV after pulling out. The best way to prevent something awful happening is to only use these methods if you are in a loving, committed, long-term relationship with someone who has been tested for all STDs in the time period between their last partner and you.


As a matter of fact, being in a loving, committed, long-term relationship is the best advice period if you want to use the rhythm method or pull out. This is because the risk of getting pregnant is so high, that you want to be with someone who you’d be willing to have a baby with. For every 100 women who have their partners pull out, there are about 30 pregnancies each year. Using the method effectively necessitates a man who can maintain enough self-control to pull out before he ejaculates every single time, without spraying or spilling a single drop anywhere near the vagina. In addition, pre-ejaculate (a fluid emitted from the penis when a man is aroused) can, in fact, contain sperm. It isn’t much, but it only takes one spermie to make a baby.


Now is also the time when I should point that, because sperm swim so fast, it doesn’t help at all if you douche or shower right away. It may actually make things worse, as the water can shove the sperm up higher and thus closer to a fertile egg.


Avoiding these fertile eggs entirely is the premise of the rhythm method—you use condoms or abstain for a few days before and after a woman ovulates. The problem here is that, despite the 28-day cycle myth, there is no hard and fast rule about when a woman will ovulate. One woman might ovulate on day 14, while another might ovulate on day 18, and this day can change in the individual woman depending on outside stressors in her life. In addition, one woman might have a viable egg for only three days were as another woman’s egg could be fertilized and implant even nine days after sex. For this reason, the rhythm method is typically less than 87-percent effective.


The best way to skew the odds in your favor is to practice Fertility Awareness (FA), which involves predicting when you ovulate by taking your temperature at the same time every morning and testing the consistency of your cervical fluid. Read up on it online or get Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH. I’m using this method myself—in order to get pregnant.


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