Q. What are the failure rates and side effects of each kind of birth control?
A. There are many methods of contraception, but the most common are the birth control pill, the condom, Norplant, Depo-Provera, the diaphragm, spermicides, the intrauterine device (IUD), and sterilization surgeries. Each method of contraception carries with it some risk of harmful side effects, many of which are downplayed in our culture. Although some are rare, men and women should be aware of all of the possible consequences.
Sterilization surgeries, such as a tubal ligation or vasectomy do not have a perfect “success” rate in preventing pregnancies, but they are very effective (99.6-99.8 percent). However, a woman who has her tubes tied may experience complications from the surgery such as severe bleeding or pelvic infection. She will also be 3.4 times as likely to have a subsequent hysterectomy(1) and three times as likely to have an ectopic pregnancy (this is when a baby is conceived but develops outside the uterus; for example, in the fallopian tubes or the abdominal cavity).(2) She also may experience heavier menstrual bleeding, ovarian tumors, and increased intensity of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) as a result of the decrease in progesterone produced by the ovaries.(3) Besides the physical complications, couples who undergo sterilization often suffer from the guilt and regret of mutilating their bodies. They often experience reduced marital satisfaction.
Men who have vasectomies may be two-and-a-half times as likely to develop kidney stones(4) and they experience an 85 to 90 percent increase in the risk of prostate cancer.(5) Following a vasectomy, a man’s testes will still produce sperm. However, because the vas deferens has been severed, the sperm have no way to be released and instead enter the bloodstream, where antibodies have to destroy them. This may lead to diabetes, heart and circulatory diseases, and thyroid and joint disorders.(6) (This does not apply to men who abstain from sex but who have not had a vasectomy, because their sperm are not forced unnaturally into the bloodstream.)
The birth control pill has a three-fold mechanism that works to prevent pregnancy. First, the chemicals convince a woman’s body that it is constantly pregnant, so that the ovaries do not release eggs, which must be present for fertilization to take place. Sometimes a “breakthrough ovulation” takes place, but the Pill’s second mechanism may thicken her cervical mucus, making it difficult for the sperm to travel to the egg.
Should this also fail and the woman becomes pregnant, the Pill has a third mechanism that may cause an early abortion, before a woman knows that she is pregnant. While some pills allow ovulation in only about five percent of cycles,(7) research shows that the popular “mini-pill” does not even suppress ovulation for about three of every four women who use it.(8)
Should the woman become pregnant while she is on the Pill, her child’s new life is endangered. This is because the Pill chemically alters the lining of the woman’s womb (the endometrium), making it hostile to the implantation of an unborn child.(9) In simpler terms, when the child is conceived, the effects of the Pill may keep him from being able to attach in the womb. The child may be aborted without the mother ever knowing it.
Sometimes all three mechanisms fail; for women under twenty-two years of age, the birth control pill has a 4.7 percent failure rate in preventing pregnancy.(10) For typical sexually active Pill users between the ages of twelve and eighteen, 20 percent of them become pregnant over the course of six months!(11)
There are numerous health risks in taking the Pill, since even the low-dose birth control pills contain steroid hormones that are a thousand times more powerful than any natural hormone in the woman’s body.(12) Few young women are informed of the risks.
For example, if a woman uses oral contraceptives prior to her first full-term pregnancy, her risk of having breast cancer increases forty percent.(13) Back in the 1970s the studies on this matter went back and forth. But with more time and research, the findings have become more conclusive.
Since 1980, twenty studies have been done on women who have taken oral contraceptives prior to having their first baby. Eighteen of the twenty studies showed that such women have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.(14) This risk increases according to how long she takes the Pill prior to having her first baby.(15) The Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs states that “Early-age use of the Pill carries a greater risk of breast cancer, of developing larger tumors and having a worse prognosis.”(16) Studies also show that “the risk of breast cancer is two to four times higher for women under nineteen years of age who use the Pill compared to women twenty to twenty-four years old because of the rapid tissue and hormonal maturation process in younger women.(17)
Besides the increased risk of breast cancer, the Pill’s potential side effects include moodiness, weight gain, increased blood pressure, gall bladder disease, liver tumors, reduced blood levels of essential vitamins, and the development of depressive personality changes. Several studies indicate an increased risk in contracting HIV.(18) The risk of stroke is five times higher for Pill users as compared to non-Pill users (19) and the risk of heart attack is three times as high.(20)
The Pill also increases a woman’s chance of developing cervical cancer, since “the Pill causes the production of a type of cervical mucus which makes it easier for cancer-causing agents to gain access to a woman’s body.”(21) Beyond this, the Pill increases a woman’s chances of infertility(22) and it offers no protection from STDs. If anything, it harms a woman’s immune system and decreases her ability to fight off venereal infections.(23) Over one thousand women die each year in the United States from using the birth control pill.(24)
Norplant is another popular form of contraception. It consists of a series of rods or capsules that a doctor inserts into a woman’s upper arm. The rods or capsules release progestin that prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs. The implants last for five years, although the effectiveness of Norplant in preventing pregnancy decreases with time.(25) They must be surgically removed.
Norplant works to suppress ovulation in only about fifty percent of cycles,(26) and because it alters the lining of the uterus, it causes first trimester abortions before the mother is aware of her pregnancy. Like the Pill, Norplant provides no protection from STDs. Its potential side effects include: severe lower abdominal pain, prolonged or heavy vaginal bleeding, absence of periods (amenorrhea), arm pain and infection, migraine headaches, blurred vision, ovarian cysts (experienced by one in ten users), high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack or stroke, hair loss, nervousness, liver tumors, and gall bladder disease.(27) Over fifty thousand American women have hired lawyers to assist in their lawsuits against the manufacturer of Norplant, Wyeth-Ayerst.(28)
Depo-Provera (The Shot) is an injection that inhibits ovulation in order to prevent pregnancy for three to six months at a time. It offers no protection from STDs and since breakthrough ovulation occurs about half of the time,(29) it can also cause early abortions, like the Pill and Norplant. Potential side effects of Depo-Provera include: major disturbances of menstrual pattern, prolonged and unpredictable delay in return to fertility, severe and prolonged bleeding, decrease in breast milk production, depression, reduction in libido (sexual desire), a tendency to develop benign and malignant breast lumps, danger to a child in the event of a pregnancy, fetal abnormalities (birth defects)–mainly some masculinizing effects in female children–and a possible link to cervical cancer.(30)
The Medical Institute for Sexual Health also warned, “Recent studies report a decrease in bone density among younger women on Depo-Provera. This may lead to osteoporosis in later stages of life.”(31) The two largest studies of women who took Depo-Provera revealed that if a woman took it for between two to three years before the age of twenty-five, she had a 310 percent statistically significant increased risk of getting breast cancer.(32)
The intrauterine device is inserted into a woman’s uterus, and mainly acts by inducing abortion. The IUD is not as common in America as it used to be, largely because of the lawsuits pending against its manufacturers. Potential side effects include: perforation of the uterus or cervix requiring surgery, increased risk of miscarriage even after it has been removed, tenfold increase in the likelihood of ectopic pregnancies, possible sterility, excessive menstrual bleeding, and increased risk of HIV infection.(33) The effectiveness rate of the IUD in preventing pregnancy is 84 percent.(34)
Spermicides are foams, creams, or gels that are used to kill a man’s sperm before it reaches the woman’s egg. Studies have shown a link between spermicides and birth defects in children, such as Down Syndrome, limb reduction malformations, and cancerous tissue growths. In regard to its effects on women, there is an increased risk of vaginal infections, and a possible link to increased risk of HIV and other STDs.(35) This mode of contraception fails 30 percent of the time.(36)
The diaphragm is a rubber disk that is inserted as a barrier into the woman for the purpose of preventing the sperm from reaching the egg. The diaphragm may cause a local skin irritation because of sensitivity or allergy, and the New England Journal of Medicine reported a link between diaphragm use and toxic shock syndrome. This mode of contraception has an 84 percent effectiveness rate, which worsens with the user who is less than thirty years of age.(37)
The male condom is a much more common form of contraception, but few people are aware of its disadvantages and failure rate. For example, the condom has not been proven to prevent the transmission of some of the most common STDs. When it comes to preventing HPV (human papillomavirus), the American Cancer Society reported, “Condoms cannot protect against infection with HPV.” Young people often think that the condom has a 99 percent effectiveness rate in preventing pregnancy. However, this figure has been arrived at in laboratories by calculating the size of a man’s sperm as compared to the pores in a latex condom. Should a couple use a condom perfectly every time, the failure rate in preventing pregnancy is 2 to 3 percent. But, the condom’s typical failure rate in preventing pregnancies among people aged fifteen to twenty-four is 18.4 percent.(38)
It is also becoming clear that barrier methods of contraception, such as the condom and the diaphragm, are potentially harmful to a woman. These methods do not allow the womb’s immune system to develop a gradual tolerance to the antigens on sperm and seminal fluid. Imagine that a couple decides to use a barrier method such as the condom for a few years, until they wish to have children. When they try to conceive, the womb is not accustomed to the sperm, and may treat them as foreign bodies. As a result, the woman’s immune system may attack the fetus, thereby disrupting the delicate balance of hormones, and causing the woman’s blood vessels to constrict, leading to higher blood pressure in the expectant mother.(39) This condition (preeclampsia) is the third leading cause of maternal death, and it is more than twice as common in women who used barrier methods of contraception.(40)
A man’s seminal fluid includes prostaglandins, which are considered among the most potent biological substances known.(41) During intercourse, the woman’s uterus absorbs these and they aid the health of the woman, help mature her uterus,(42) and may even protect the mammary gland from cancer.(43)
The protective effects of semen are so significant that the Journal of the American Medical Association referred to intercourse where barrier contraceptives are used as “unprotected” sexual intercourse,(44) because the woman is not given the natural protection of semen.
As you can see, God has created a woman’s body to work in a precise way with a man’s. a woman’s body works in a precise way with a man’s. When we tinker with mother nature, and try to flip fertlity on and off like a light switch, it often ends up backfiring. After all, pregnancy is not a disease and should not be treated as one.
1. A. Stergachis and others, “Tubal Sterilization and the Long-term Risk of Hysterectomy,” Journal of the American Medical Association 264 (12 December 1990): 2893-2899. As reported by Tubal Ligation (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Couple to Couple League International, 1995).
2. Fleet and others, British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 95 (August 1988): 740-746. As reported by Denis St. Marie, “Sterilization, Pervasive and Insidious” (www.familyplanning.net/birth-control9.htm).
3. The Couple to Couple League, Tubal Ligation.
4. R. A. Kronmal, J. N. Kriegar, J. W. Kennedy, and others, “Vasectomy and Urolithiasis,” The Lancet 331 (1988): 22-23. As reported in Vasectomy (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Couple to Couple League International, 1995).
5. Wilson, Love & Family, 293.
6. Wilson, Love & Family, 292.
7. N. van der Vange, “Seven Low-dose Oral Contraceptives and Their Influence on Metabolic Pathways and Ovarian Activity” (master’s thesis, Reijksuniversiteit te Utrecht, 1986), 88. As reported by Bogomir M. Kuhar, Pharm. D., Infant Homicides through Contraceptives, 4th ed. (Bardstown, Kentucky: Eternal Life Publishers, 2000), 42.
8. I. Aref, F. Hefnawi, O. Kandil, M. T. Abdel Aziz, “Effect of Mini-pills on Physiologic Responses of Human Cervical Mucus, Endometrium and Ovary,” Journal of Fertility and Sterility 24:8 (August 1973): 578-583. As reported by Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, “The Pill: Abortifacient or Contraceptive?” Linacre Quarterly (February 1995): 9.
9. R. L. Kleinmann, ed., Hormonal Contraception (London: International Planned Parenthood Federation Medical Publications, 1990), 21; Patient package insert for Ortho-Tri-Cyclen (Raritan, New Jersey: Ortho Pharmaceutical Corporation [Johnson & Johnson], 1992). As reported by Kuhar, Infant Homicides through Contraceptives, 5.
10. Robert A. Hatcher and others, Contraceptive Technologies (New York: Irvington Publishers, 1994), 229. As quoted by Wilson, Love & Family, 271.
11. L. M. Dinerman and others, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 149:9 (September 1995): 967-972. As reported by Westside Pregnancy Resource Center, “Teen Sex and Pregnancy: Facts and Figures.”
12. David Kingsley, “The Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill: Abortifacient and Damaging to Women” (www.lifeuk.org/speech3.html).
13. Chris Kahlenborn, M.D., Breast Cancer (Dayton, Ohio: One More Soul, 2000), 260.
14. Kahlenborn, Breast Cancer, 36.
15. I. Romieu, J. Berlin, and others, “Oral Contraceptives and Breast Cancer: Review and Meta-analysis,” Cancer 66 (1990): 2253-2263.
16. John B. Wilks, Pharm. M.P.S., A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 2nd ed. (Stafford, Virginia: American Life League, Inc., 1997), 70.
17. Patrick McCrystal, “So They Say the Pill is Safe?” (www.hli.org/publications/hlir/1999/hr049909.html).
18. Kahlenborn, Breast Cancer, 230-231; Michael Specter, “AIDS Infection and Birth Control Pills: Case of Nairobi Prostitutes Raises Questions of Possible Risk Factor,” The Washington Post, 2 June 1987, A10.
19. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Facts About Oral Contraceptives, by Maureen D. Gardner (www.mdadvice.com/topics/contraception_vasectomy/info/2.htm).
20. Maureen D. Gardner, Facts About Oral Contraceptives.
21. Wilks, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 30.
22. Wilks, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 93-95.
23. Blum and others, “Antisperm Antibodies in Young Oral Contraceptive Users,” 41-46.
24. S. Harlan, K. Kost, J. D. Forrest, Preventing Pregnancy, Protecting Health (New York: The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1991), 98-99. As reported by “Can the Pill Kill You?” Lovematters.com (newspaper supplement) 4:2001:24.
25. Johns Hopkins University, Population Information Program, Decisions for Norplant Programs, supplement to Population Reports, November 1992, 20-K:4. As reported by Wilson, Love & Family, 273.
26. Thomas Hilgers, M.D., “Norplant,” Linacre Quarterly (1993): 64-69.
27. Wilson, Love & Family, 274-275.
28. D. Taylor, “Spare the Rod,” The Guardian (United Kingdom), 12 March 1996, 11. As quoted by Wilks, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 107.
29. E. M. Belsey, “Vaginal Bleeding Patterns among Women Using One Natural and Eight Hormonal Methods of Contraception,” Contraception 38:2 (1988): 181-206; R. E. Lande, “New Era for Injectables,” Population Reports 23:2-K5 (1995): 1-31. As reported by Kuhar, Infant Homicides through Contraceptives, 44.
30. Wilson, Love & Family, 276-277.
31. Sexual Health Update 7:1 (Spring 1999): 2.
32. Kahlenborn, Breast Cancer, 38.
33. Wilson, Love & Family, 282.
34. Wilson, Love & Family, 281.
35. Wilson, Love & Family, 289; Wilks, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 126Â¥128; Sexual Health Update 7:1 (Spring 1999): 3.
36. Wilks, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 124.
37. Wilson, Love & Family, 290.
38. R. A. Hatcher, Contraceptive Technology, 1986-1987, 13th ed., rev. (New York: Irvington Publishers, 1986), 139; Kim Painter, “Disturbing Data on Birth Control Failure,” USA Today, 13 July 1989, 1D.
39. Wilks, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 136.
40. Hillary S. Klonoff-Cohen, David A. Savitz, Robert C. Cefalo, M.D., Margaret F. McCann, “An Epidemiologic Study of Contraception and Preeclampsia,” Journal of the American Medical Association 262:22 (8 December 1989).
41. A. N. Gjorgov, M.D., “Barrier Contraception and Breast Cancer,” Contributions to Gynecology and Obstetrics 8 (1980): 61.
42. Editorial, “Semen and AIDS,” Child and Family 21:2 (1990): 90-96.
43. “Semen and AIDS,” 91.
44. Klonoff-Cohen and others, “An Epidemiologic Study of Contraception and Preeclampsia,” 3143.