Family Planning: Definition, Programs & Efficacy

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  • 0:01 Family Planning
  • 0:50 Reasons for Family Planning
  • 2:13 Methods & Efficacy
  • 6:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Family planning is becoming more and more of a modern priority both here in the United States and around the world. In this lesson, you'll explore the idea of family planning and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Family Planning

Ahem, today we need to have a talk. Really, we need to have the talk. This is John and Jane Study; they're married, and they want to have a baby. Now when two animated figures love each other very much… wait, hold up. You don't know if you want children? Oh, well then, this is going to be a different lesson entirely! Thank goodness!

All right, instead of talking about where animated babies come from, let's have a talk about family planning, the intentional prevention or inception of a pregnancy. Basically, this is just the process of controlling if and when a couple will have children. Okay, Mr. and Mrs. Study, let's take look at some of your options.

Reasons for Family Planning

Trying to prevent a pregnancy can happen for many reasons. The most basic is just not wanting to get pregnant. Let's face it, having a kid is time consuming, and many individuals or couples may want or need to focus on careers or other priorities for a while. This is especially a concern for women, for whom the physical burden of pregnancy is obviously most relevant.

But there are other reasons for family planning, too. According to the United Nations, which actively endorses family planning programs around the world, pregnancies can be a real problem for many populations. Children are a major financial responsibility, and having a large family can be a crushing burden in some cases.

Also, childbirth is still a considerable health risk for women, especially in areas with underdeveloped health care. Reducing the number of children a woman has can improve her long-term health. But, let's be clear here, family planning is not simply focused on never having children. With appropriate planning, families can have children at the most appropriate time, and have the best-sized family to fit their needs. Overall, the basic idea is that while children are great, the ability to plan and control your family size gives you the best chance at a happy and fulfilling life.

Methods and Efficacy of Family Planning

Once you've decided that family planning is a good option, the next question is --how? Family planning, although very much a modern priority, is not entirely a purely modern concern. Traditionally, one of the primary ways to prevent pregnancy is simple abstinence, or refraining from sex. After all, no sex, no pregnancy!

Theoretically, abstinence is the surest way to prevent a pregnancy, so why do places with abstinence-only family planning tend to have such low success rates? Humans are pretty emotional creatures, especially once hormones get involved, so sexual desire has a tendency to override social pressure. Historically, family planning methods that only rely on abstinence are not very effective, and often only result in the pregnant women becoming social outcasts, which doesn't really help anyone.

So, what are other methods of family planning? In our modern world, the most common are birth control contraceptives: artificial products that prevent pregnancy. Condoms and oral contraceptives like the pill are the most common, and although they are not 100% effective, they have managed to greatly decrease unplanned pregnancies in areas where they are available.

Recent studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that when made available and used correctly, birth control methods reduced the rate or pregnancy amongst American teenage females by up to 79%, as compared to the average rate of pregnancy amongst sexually-active American teens without frequent access to the same methods.

Today, many nations are making the availability of birth control a top priority, generally as a way to control the massive population growth that tends to accompany industrializing economies. India is a prime example of a nation that is concerned with a rapidly growing population and has turned to birth control as the solution. And some nations, like the United Kingdom, actually make contraceptives available for free by law. However, this is not an easy thing to do in some places. Many religious societies are against artificial birth control since it allows humans to interfere with what is seen as the divine act of creating life.

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