Barrier Methods and Spermicides

This is an overview of the information in The Christian and Birth Control book, published by Christian Life Resources. To purchase the book click on the link at the bottom of this page.

Don’t read this chapter! If you haven’t read the first chapter in this book on “Motive,” we don’t want you to read this chapter. Everything written here is an application of what we talked about in that first chapter. If your motive is not right, then a discussion of birth control methods is inappropriate. A discussion of any birth control method outside of the context of the Christian faith and motive makes it only a vehicle for sinning.

Important! Before launching into this discussion please be advised that your doctor should be your primary source of information on barrier methods.

One thing that struck us in our research on this matter is how vague or inconsistent some of the information is on this topic. The accuracy of the information or the way it is used sometimes directly correlates with an agency’s agenda on the issue. Additionally, new discoveries are made regularly in this field. While we provide here a general overview of information, we encourage you to discuss this matter with your doctor and pastor to assure your methods and motives are both correct and clearly understood.

As we stated in the first chapter, with the correct motive there is a place in understanding and considering methods of birth control. This chapter will specifically look at what are called barrier methods.

Simply put, barrier methods are designed to be an impenetrable barrier between sperm and egg. Because they are designed solely to prevent fertilization, barrier methods are not considered to be abortifacient. That means they do not cause a fertilized egg to be aborted. Presuming the motive is correct and these barrier methods are used in a manner that does not conflict with principles of Scripture, they are acceptable considerations for Christians. The common barrier methods in use today are the male and female condoms, cervical cap and diaphragm. As we have already stated, any of these methods can be considered by a Christian with the correct motive in mind. That being the case, the next issue involves effectiveness. How effective are these methods in preventing fertilization of an egg?

In this regard reports vary. A significant variable to effectiveness is the use of spermicides with barrier methods. Spermicides are creams, jellies, gels or suppositories which are designed to stop the movement or kill most sperm. Alone, spermicides are considered less effective than if used with a barrier method. Use of a spermicide with a barrier method substantially increases effectiveness. Use of a spermicide alone shows failure rates at 82%, according to latest U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data from August 2013.

There was some controversy raised in the early 1980s about spermicides. We found a reference to the concern that use of a spermicide after a child is conceived may cause birth defects. The FDA has not found the data to support such an association. We will continue to watch for such data.

People often want to know the effectiveness of a birth control device in preventing a pregnancy. It is important to understand how effectiveness is measured. We found many sources referred to theoretical or perfected use versus typical use. For example, one source said the male condom had a theoretical use effectiveness of 97%. Its typical use effectiveness, however, was 82% according to 2013 FDA statistics. What that means is that if the device is manufactured perfectly and used perfectly, there is a 97% chance that fertilization will not take place.

But this is an imperfect world. Manufacturing processes are not perfect and people are certainly not perfect in the way they do things. That means when all such variables are considered, in a very practical sense, one can assume the condom to be 82% effective in preventing fertilization. As we studied these statistics we couldn’t help but recall the man who was to be operated on for a hernia. His pastor, in a futile attempt to alleviate any anxiety, said, “Well, that is fairly routine and minor surgery.” The man replied, “Minor surgery is something someone else has.” In other words, when it is you, it is major.

The same can be said about statistical reports on barrier method effectiveness. In a typical setting it may be 82% effective, but if one falls in that 18% range, there is a 100% ineffective rate.

This is an important point to remember. As one considers a method of contraception there must always be a prevailing attitude that God is still in control. Because of the imperfection of sin our methods will be imperfect. Yet, God, who holds authority over all life, may choose to frustrate even the most effective method of contraception and bring life into the womb.

For comparison purposes, the 2013 FDA statistics for typical use effectiveness for the following barrier methods are as follows: male condom – 82%; female condom – 79%; diaphragm (used with a spermicide) – 88%; cervical cap (used with a spermicide) – 77%-83%. (The FDA does not show statistical typical use effectiveness information for vaginal contraceptive film, although WebMD reports a 74%-94% effectiveness rate. When used consistently and correctly along with the combined use of spermicides [like that in the film] and condoms, the film is about 97% effective, according to WebMD.)

A married Christian couple may consider a barrier method to be their contraception of choice as they exercise stewardship in the bearing of children. But they will do so ever mindful that the Lord may wish to use the imperfection of this age to bring about the blessing of a child. If that should happen, surprise is certainly understandable. Rejoicing would be appropriate.

To purchase The Christian and Birth Control from the CLR online store, click here.


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