Hands Free vs. Hands On
Sadly, a common feature afflicting so many of the available birth-control methods out there is that they can be a hassle to use and a deterrent to having sex. The effort and energy it requires to rig up the gear is often enough to squelch desire. Furthermore, the underlying issues related to birth control— who bears the responsibility for it, anxiety over effectiveness, resentment for the discomfort or possible side effects of certain kinds of birth control—are the types of slow-burning irritants that can fester into full-blown bitterness within a relationship. As always, bitterness and its close pal, resentment, lead us down the path to less sex, or at least less good sex. Still, birth control for most couples is a must and we are lucky to have choices. Our task is to find the ones that mesh with our lifestyles, our bodies, and our individual preferences.
Birth control options can be split into two categories: above-the-belt chemical options and below-the-belt physical barriers, some of which release low doses of hormones. The above-the-belt options are clean and clinical—the pill, Depo-Provera shot, and Implanon (the successor of Nor-plant). At first, these inventions seemed like they solved the birth control issue, or at the very least, took the issue of birth control out of the relationship sphere. The birth control pill is the most widely used and effective form of birth control. Considering that the dosage of hormones and side effects have been greatly minimized, there appears to be no trade-off for the women who take this on.
But many women (and the men they live with) can tell you this science comes with a price. Hormonal fluctuations are challenging enough on their own that some women would prefer not to play with fire, either in the short term or the long term. Says one nurse and mother: "I hate the birth control methods available. Women's bodies are so complicated and once we start chemically messing with the reproductive system, we can get ourselves in trouble. It takes a few months to figure out if one is working or not, and when it's not working, you're not sure if it's your birth control or if you have cancer. When you finally figure out what works, you have kids or turn 40 and the whole thing changes!"
Because all above-the-belt options can have side effects—some known and some possibly as yet undiscovered—some women don't want to mess with their body chemistry and are therefore limited to the hormone-free barrier options.