Birth control is the practice of preventing or reducing probability of pregnancy or ending an unwanted pregnancy. The term family planning is sometimes also used, especially when referring to the thoughtful and premeditated selection of a birth control technique.

When pregnancy is not desired, either at least one of the participants must be sterile, sexual intercourse must be avoided, or contraception must be used to prevent conception.

Contraception (even vasectomy) is not always 100 per cent effective. More generally, in sexual behavior contact of semen with the vagina should be avoided. For example, partners can restrict themselves to masturbation, oral sex, etc., but they should not forget to keep not only the penis but also the sperm away from the vagina. Abstinence is sometimes called the only 'sure' way to avoid pregnancy. If perfectly adhered to, it is. However, some who habitually rely on it as their primary protection may cease to abstain and thereby incur the risk of pregnancy.

Table of contents
1 History of birth control
2 Traditional birth control methods:
3 Modern birth control methods:
4 Religious and cultural attitudes to birth control

History of birth control

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Traditional birth control methods:

Modern birth control methods:

Condoms and herbal birth control methods existed before the modern era. The herbal methods were of various effectiveness, and were available in China and Europe.

Religious and cultural attitudes to birth control

The official position of the Catholic Church regarding birth control is expressed very clearly in Pope Pius XI's encyclical entitled Casti Connubii. It was written in response to the Episcopalian approval of artificial means of contraception when used in cases of grave necessity.

Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, ... in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, ... proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI released a document called Humanae Vitae, which again forbade chemical and barrier methods but suggested natural methods such as the rhythm method or natural family planning might be considered in cases of necessity. The public response to this suggestion was immediate and overwhelming. There is dissent however. Some priests and theologians accept only abstinence as moral and there are also those who assert abstinence within a marriage can be immoral.

Couples seeking marriage in the Catholic Church are required to undergo counseling by a Catholic priest. In the past priests led couples seeking to delay children to rhythm, today they are instructed to point new couples toward the more effective natural family planning.