Attitudes to contraception: Tradition and Religion

Attitudes to contraception: Tradition and Religion

Berna Dilbaz


Worldwide there are around 123 million women, mostly in

developing countries who are not using any contraceptive method despite their

desire for birth spacing or limiting the number of births. Furthermore as a

result of this unmet desire, an estimated 38% of all pregnancies occur all

aorund the world each year. Women’s lack of effective birth spacing and

fertility control puts their life and health under risk. Pregnancies which are

too early or too late in a woman’s reproductive life or too closely spaced or

unwanted carry higher health risks. Sexual abstinence is a very successful way

to avoid unwanted pregnany but is not feasable therefore contraception is the

key to avoid unplanned, unwanted pregnancies.

In order to use contraception people must be aware of the family

planning methods, regard their use as beneficial and be able to obtain the

method of choice. Therefore besides awareness and availability of contraceptive

methods, women’s and even societies’ perception and attitudes about fertility

and family planning methods play a major role in approval of family planning and

accepting to use a contraceptive method. Age at first marriage, desired family

size, son preference, premarital sex, women’s education and autonomy are factors

resposable for differences in fertility among various group of women. All these

factors are influenced by social, economic and cultural factors. Religion and

tradition has an undeniable impact on social and cultural structure of the


Family planning behavior is under the influence of environmental

and individual factors. Social influences on fertility behaviour show the

importance of tradition. In some cultures there is a tradition of early marriage

and immediate childbirth and no birth spacing. Any contraception is perceived as

individual coercion and deviation form ancestral tradition. Traditions, like

unacceptance of premarital sex is a barrier against acceptance of teenage sexual

activity that might well lead to unprotected intercourse due to inadequate

information on family planning and sexually transmitted infections. The strength

of religious opposition to contraception is a major obstacle in individual’s

choice of fertility regulation. It is important to learn different religious

attitudes related to reproductive health problems when handling the health

problems and needs of a woman. Health-workers should be able to adress religious

and traditional barriers. National family planning programmes and policies

should also take the cultural differences into account in order to reach the

clients and increase the acceptance of health policies. Policy makers and

service providers need to evaluate the cultural structure of their society and

consider the differences in traditional and religous beliefs of different groups.

Service providers should be sensitive to cultural norms that affect the

behaviour of different ethnic groups.

The efforts to control fertility have been a common practice

even in primitive, preliterate societies in history. Inscriptions from ancient

Egyptians indicate that monogamous marriage was the norm, and various methods of

contraception existed. In the 4th century B.C. Plato and Aristotle advocated a

single-childed family.Aristotle advocated covering the cervix and vagina with

cedar oil as a contraceptive technique. In the 5th century B.C., Saint Augustine

condemned contraception even among married couples. The Kakun Papyrus dating

from about 1850 BC has references in the text showing whether a woman is fertile

and describes some contraceptive measures. The Hippocratic writers recommended

semen to be removed from the vagina and recommended gaining weight as an

anticonception measure. Primitive forms of contraceptive devices were described

and used by Greek and Islamic physicians. Contraceptive technology improved

dramatically with the beginning of 20th century and was accepted by many


Scientific advances and their use to improve quality of human

life do not always harmonise with the desire to follow faith, religious sayings

and tradition. Religion is a cultured phenomenon. Different religions have

different sayings about sexual behaviour and fertility. Religiosity or

acceptance of the teachings of a particular religion is a stronger determinant

of sexual behaviour than a specific religion per se

Many aspects of religiosity is found to be associated with

general sexual behaviour. Card et al. analysed six main categories of

determinants for and individual’s decision to use or not to use an effective

contraceptive method by reviewing 259 articles, monographs, and books:

demographic, sociopsychological, experiential or behaviorial, infromational,

including knowledge, husband and wife interaction, environmental. The groups

with relatively high fertility and low contraceptive use are people from a low

socioeconomic status, adolescents, people aged 40 and older, Catholics and

highly reliogous, unemployed women with many siblings or working women who do

not attach great importance to their careers and ethnic minorities.. The

evidence linking values and attitudes to fertility-related behavior is stronger

than personality traits.

Individual’s perceived importance of religion is important in

choosing a birth control method. Attitudes of 240 female Hispanic teenagers

towards the importance of birth control were examined and 4 predictors: primary

language, mother’s education, importance of religion and friends’ perceived

birth control use were found to be associated with attitude toward the

importance of birth control. Perceived importance of religion was significanly

related to lower scores of birth planning and little importance was related to

high scores.

The practice might divert from the religious teachings in some

settings. In a study aimed to analyze the relationship between religiosity and

contraceptive method choice among users of contraception in the Jewish

population of Israel, contraceptive choices of religious women were found to be

determined largely by considerations unrelated to religious doctrine such as

peer influences, cultural effects and acceptance of a particular religious


Although the Catholic Curch favours natural family planning and

has obstructed modern birth control programmes and practices in various part of

the world it came out that 91% of the Catholics were using illicit contraceptive

methods by 1971.

Religion is not a sole nominator in choosing a contraceptive

method and people from the same religion living in different settings can

practice contraception differently. Malian migrants in France continue to be

strongly pronatalist; men tend to oppose contraception, citing Islamic doctrine

while women increasingly justify contraceptive use in response to health

policies. More Islamic countires are establishing national family planning

policies. Secular Islamic countries; Turkey and Tunusia have liberal family

planning laws.

Cultural setting and tradition like son preference, fatalism

exert an important influence on reproductive behaviour, independent of economic

development. The concept of male dominance and superiority that is a part of

cultural heritage in some countries leads to early marriage, over-population and

a variety of health problem in both sexes (STD, unsafe abortion etc..). The

norms and traditions that are against limitation of the family size influence

the fertility decision-making process and lead to low contraceptive use.

Cultural traditions have strong influences on the acceptability of pregnancy at

an early age. In some cultures women’s autonomy like the possibility of women

using contraception without husband’s knowledge is regarded as a threat to

tradition. Children in some settings are seen as an asset as they are a task

force while young and care giver to parents when they are old.

Developments in science and technology raise new religous

questions that do not always have clear answers. Claims by women to autonomous

reproductive choices is an ongoing debate. Improvement in education and social

status of the women in the family and in the society are major forces that can

overcome the negative impact of tradition and other sociocultural factors.

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