Herbal Lore and Contraception
n many places around the world, herbs are used as contraception. For example, American women in Appalachia drink tea made from Queen Anne’s lace directly following sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy (Rensberger, 1994). They are not alone. Many women from South Africa, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Haiti, China, and India rely on herbal contraceptives (L. Newman & Nyce, 1985). Newer hormonal methods of birth control have reduced fertility around the world, but nonhormonal methods such as natural family planning and herbal methods continue to be used. Some of the tested herbs have been found to have high success rates for contraceptive ability (Chaudhury, 1985).
A common herbal contraceptive in Paraguay is known as yuyos. Many different types of yuyos are taken for fertility
regulation (Bull & Melian, 1998). The herbs are usually soaked in water and drunk as tea. Older women teach younger women how to use these herbs, but problems sometimes occur when herbal methods are used improperly. Remember that this method works only when using a mix of herbs that have been found to offer contraceptive protection. Drinking herbal tea from the grocery store isn’t going to protect you in the same way!
Failure rates from herbal contraceptives are higher than from more modern methods, but many do work better than using nothing at all. What is it that makes the herbal methods effective? We don’t know, but perhaps some future contraceptive drugs may come from research into plant pharmaceuticals.
Men are primarily responsible for birth control decisions in Japan, where many women do not discuss birth control with their husband (Hatano & Shimazaki, 2004). In fact, many Japanese women express shock over the liberal views that many American woman hold about birth control pill usage. In Kenya, married couples report low condom usage because condoms in marriage signify unfaithfulness on the part of the husband (Brockman, 2004). In Puerto Rico, women are uncomfortable asking their male partners to wear condoms. In some countries, contraception is the responsibility of both men and women. For example, in Germany, contraception is a joint decision between men and women, and it is estimated that 95% of sexually active people report using contraception (Lautmann & Starke, 2004).
Scandinavian countries are regarded as some of the most progressive with respect to contraceptive usage. In fact, Finland has been rated as a “model country” in contraceptive use because a variety of contraceptive methods are easily available and students can obtain contraception from school health services (Kontula & Haavio-Mannila, 2004). In the Netherlands and Norway, contraceptive use is high, and many couples use contraception prior to their first sexual intercourse (Drenth & Slob, 2004). In many of these countries, birth control is free and easily accessible (Trost & Bergstrom-Walan, 2004).