Contraception: A necessary conversation

“They’ll only use it as a form of contraception.” Anyone who has ever tried to have a two-sided conversation about the current repeal of the 8th amendment debate will recognise this remark all too well. It seems to be the fall-back retort for those opposing the legalisation of abortion in Ireland.

With Repeal Week, run by the Feminist Society, at Maynooth University fast approaching (6th – 10th of March) such conversations and debates are going to become far more prominent around campus. And rightly so.

However, this article is not going to debate abortion. This article is not going to tell you which opinion or moral belief system you should prescribe to. That’s a personal decision that every person must come to themselves.

What this article will do though is acknowledge that people (especially people in the prime of their lives, as we are constantly reminded) are having sex. And unless it is your goal to become pregnant, contraception IS a conversation we need to have. The fight for reproductive rights is certainly not new to Ireland, with contraceptives being illegal in the Republic until 1980 and even then there were intense (some may argue ridiculous) limitations placed on the selling and buying of contraceptives.

It’s pretty much public knowledge that sexual education in Ireland is not the best. Most people reading this will have similar memories of sitting in a classroom, surrounded by about 30 other teenagers and being told that sex before marriage led to only two things: sexually transmitted diseases and/or unwanted pregnancies. That was it. Sometimes, and I speak from personal experience here, whoever was giving the ‘sex talk’ would throw in some worst-case scenario images of various STDs just to really drive home the “don’t have sex” message. If you were lucky, and went to a slightly more progressive school, you might have quickly brushed over the different types of contraception that are available. Normally though, the underlying theme of these ‘sexual education’ classes was that abstinence was the best form of contraception.

Okay, so technically speaking, yes abstinence is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and/or STDs. However, we live in the real world, where people want to and do have sex. Therefore, it is imperative that we are fully aware of all the available options of contraception if pregnancy is not the aim of our sexual activity.

Contraception, or birth control, aims to prevent pregnancy. Some types of contraception will also help to protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs.) There are a bunch of different contraceptive options available and your choice will depend on your personal preferences, your medical condition and your contraceptive needs. The following is a list of the contraceptive options currently available in Ireland and how effective each one is when used perfectly. However, because us mere mortals are not perfect the actual effectiveness, according to Planned Parenthood, changes drastically from the ‘perfect use’ percentage. The actual effectiveness of each method will thus be placed in brackets beside each.

  • Male condom: 94-98% effective with correct and careful use (85%)
  • Female condom: 95% effective if used correctly (79%)
  • Contraceptive pill:
    • – Combined pill: 99% effective when taken correctly (92%)
    • – Progestogen-only pill: 98% effective when taken correctly (92%)
  • Contraceptive injection: 99% effective if taken correctly (97%)
  • Contraceptive Patch: 99% effective when used properly (92%)
  • Diaphragm/cap: 92-96% effective if used correctly (84%)
  • Implants: 99% effective (99%)
  • Intrauterine Contraceptive Device (IUCD)/ The Coil: 98-99% effective (99%)
  • Intrauterine System (IUS): 99% effective (99%)
  • Vaginal ring: 99% effective (92%)
  • Emergency contraception:
    • – Emergency contraceptive pills (‘morning after pill’): must be taken 72 hours of you having had unprotected sex, the earlier you take it the more effective it will be.
    • – IUCD: can be fitted in your womb up to 5 days after you have had unprotected sex.

So, there you have it, a basic yet straight forward guide to the important role that contraception plays in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. At the end of the day, whichever method you choose to use, just make sure you use it correctly. When in doubt, ask a doctor. They’ve heard (and seen) it all before. There is also a wide array of websites, such as irishhealth.com, that contain much more detailed information on each of the forms of contraception available in the country.