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Planning life by choice, not chance

Since time immemorial, women have tried nearly everything for their contraceptive needs. Chinese women drank mercury, Italians sipped a tea of yellow leaves & mule’s hoof, Greeks had diluted copper ore.

Thanks to the advancement in medical technology, women no longer need to take resort to these bizarre methods. However, it’s quite ironical that even today almost 50 per cent of our population does not use any form of contraception resulting in high abortion rates. Though they have knowledge of contraception, few of them are aware of the various options and even fewer actually adopt them.

It was in 1960 that the oral contraceptive pill was first marketed. It gave women independence regarding their reproductive choice. However, the pills contained very high doses of estrogen and progestogen hormones, which resulted in a lot of side effects like nausea, mood swings, weight gain, hair growth, pimples, etc. These side-effects gave birth to myths and misconceptions regarding pill usage.

Extensive research was carried out to discover a pill with the least amount of oestrogen and newer and better progestogen. The result: Pills which are not only free of previous side-effects, but are, in fact, used for the treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome, hirsuitism and acne.

Other methods widely used for birth control are condoms and intrauterine devices (IUD). While condoms have unmatched advantage in terms of protection against sexually transmitted diseases, IUDs provide long- term protection for a period ranging from 3-10 years. However, IUDs are not usually preferred before the birth of the first child. Single rod implants, which are currently under trial in India, provide another option for long-term protection. Permanent methods of birth control include sterilisation — vasectomy for men and tubectomy for women. Vaginal pessaries, diaphragms, injectable contraceptives and female condoms provide other options though not widely in use.

Lately, emergency contraceptive pills have been extensively used. But it has to be kept in mind that these are for ‘emergencies only’.

The latest addition to this plethora of options is the vaginal contraceptive ring, which was recently launched in India. It’s a soft, transparent ring which releases a small amount of hormones that enter the body through the vaginal wall. Therefore, the hormones do not pass through the liver and do not burden it. The ring offers similar advantages like the birth control pills but frees the woman from the worry to remember consuming the pill every day. This is one of the reasons why it has become extremely popular in most countries around the world.

It is to be remembered that every woman is different and so is her contraceptive need. What may work for one might not suit another. Special situations like medical conditions and past history of disease often warrant different choices in contraception. Hence it is important for a woman to visit a healthcare provider like a gynaecologist before making an informed choice.

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