"Rhythm Method" May Kill Off More Embryos Than Other Methods of Contraception

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Or so declares a press release for a new article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. According to the press release, London School of Economics philospher Luc Bovens argues:

If all oral contraceptive users converted to the rhythm method, then they would be effectively causing the deaths of millions of embryos.

Similarly, regular condom users, whose choice of contraception is deemed to be 95% effective in preventing pregnancy, would "cause less embryonic deaths than the rhythm method," he says.

"…the rhythm method may well be responsible for massive embryonic death, and the same logic that turned pro-lifers away from morning after pills, IUDs, and pill usage, should also make them nervous about the rhythm method," he contends.

The whole article is here.

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  1. Will unborn angel make an appearance?

  2. I bet the College of Cardinals heard about this… might explain the recent swing on condoms…
    JMJ

  3. Maybe to say that when God kills embryos, it’s OK.

  4. It is the only method of birth control condoned by the Catholic Church.

    That is a falsehood. The Catholic Church endorses Natural Family Planning, which is different from the Rhythm Method. More importantly, a spontaneous miscarriage due to timing of fertilization can hardly be equated with “”kill[ing] off more embryos”. Whether one is or is not practicing “The Rhythm Method” has nothing to do with that reality.

  5. Even coitus interruptus is problematic. What’s a believer to do?

  6. natural family planning = 3 words
    rhythm method = 2 words

    to be fair, nfp involves a lot more thermometers.

  7. What is with every single non-Catholic on the face of the earth referring to the “rhythm method,” which went out of fashion a few decades ago?

  8. Swill, well, now that we know that more die from Rhythym than condoms, how can they not equate it?

    Jeremy, you’re lost. Catholics preach the rhythym method all the time – so do conservative born agains now.

    JMJ

  9. I’d have a hell of a lot more respect for the Catholic Church’s position on prenatal death by any cause (and especially their position on abortion), if they had a history of recognizing the passing of an unborn child/fetus with the same seriousness that marks the passing of a child, or an adult.

    Instead, a mother who’s had a miscarriage is accorded no particular recognition for her loss, nor is the father comforted by a tradition of funerary ceremony.

    As a result, their opposition to abortion and birth control smells more like an act of desperate control over the lives of their (female) followers.

    Note that my own feelings about the topic of abortion are somewhat mixed; I’m simply reflecting on the Church’s alleged motivations appearing to be in contrast to its actions.

  10. “What is with every single non-Catholic on the face of the earth referring to the “rhythm method,” which went out of fashion a few decades ago?”

    because the term is absolutely hilarious.

    and because we hate god.

  11. Did you guys know that God sounds exactly like Spongebob Squarepants?

    JMJ

  12. Time for Mencken!!


    “It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.”

  13. In general I like the article, but what’s with this:

    My research was supported by the Alexander von
    Humboldt Foundation, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and the Program for the Investment in the Future (ZIP) of the German Government through a Sofja Kovalevskaja Award.

    This paper is two pages long, cites one source and is basically composed of three assumptions. This required support from three(!) organizations?

  14. I’d have a hell of a lot more respect for the Catholic Church’s position on prenatal death by any cause (and especially their position on abortion), if they had a history of recognizing the passing of an unborn child/fetus with the same seriousness that marks the passing of a child, or an adult.

    Instead, a mother who’s had a miscarriage is accorded no particular recognition for her loss, nor is the father comforted by a tradition of funerary ceremony.

    Excellent point, though I have a feeling a lot of people would mock the hell out of such a practice.

  15. To say that the Catholic Church’s policy on life is incoherent would be charitable. It is a patronizing and ham-handed attempt at consistency on an extremely complex subject. Their basic desire is to preserve the sanctity of all life and all potential life, haploid, diploid or otherwise, even if it means suffering in your old age or scooping up every sperm cell from an errant money shot.

    Natural Family Planning, however, is more than a Catholic practice. It is a perfectly reasonable way to attempt to avoid (or inversely to increase the probability of) conception without dealing with hormones that fuck with your body, implements that fuck with your body, or delightful devices that take all the fun out of sex.

  16. Swillfredo, I have a friend who’s for years used NFP. She’s had four children, and more abortions than I can easily recall.

    There’s no denying that the hormones fuck with a woman’s body — life wants increase, and overcomes all sorts of barriers to that end.

    If you’ve never done so, study sometime all of the things that have to go just right for a successful human pregnancy and childbirth — then marvel at the global birth rate.

    I’m not a religious man, but a baby in my arms is a Really Truly Miracle.

  17. Excellent point, though I have a feeling a lot of people would mock the hell out of such a practice.

    You speak sooth. For an example of said mockage, see http://www.dailykos.net/archives/002489.html

  18. Swillfredo, I have a friend who’s for years used NFP. She’s had four children, and more abortions than I can easily recall.

    Maybe NFP is not right for her. From my Catholic high school days I remember discussions that the efficacy of NFP, when done properly, can be upwards of 98%. That assumes that a woman has predictable cycles, that a couple is very diligent about tracking everything, and that they have the self-control to abstain or use a raincoat when in the fertile zone.

    Q: What do you call people who use the Rhythm Method?
    A: Parents.

    It is truly amazing what it takes to successfully pull off a pregnancy, doubly cruel that so many children are conceived so easily by those who have the least amount of business having children. God sure is a sadistic bitch sometimes.

  19. “The Catholic Church endorses Natural Family Planning, which is different from the Rhythm Method.”

    What, is “Natural Family Planning” a euphemism for pederasty?

  20. From my Catholic high school days I remember discussions that the efficacy of NFP, when done properly, can be upwards of 98%. That assumes that a woman has predictable cycles, that a couple is very diligent about tracking everything, and that they have the self-control to abstain or use a raincoat when in the fertile zone.

    Hey, and “pulling out” has a 98% success rate too! Oh, that assumes that the male always successfully pulls out in time, that there is no pre-e involved, and that the male has good aim.

    Amazing what you can accomplish when you assume away the negative outcomes.

  21. Seamus,
    When my grandmother died, we had a funeral. Everyone did not take turns holding grandma before we buried her.

  22. Amazing what you can accomplish when you assume away the negative outcomes.

    It is also amazing what you can accomplish if you can follow simple instructions.

  23. Jim Anderson,

    That link is meesed up. It makes me want to go jerk off in the bathroom just to piss them off.

    Plus, the Catholic Church has killed off so many people over the course of history, it has no moral ground upon which to stand.

    Fucking tyrants.

  24. Mo, many funerary traditions, even in Western cultures, involve some form of physical visitation or contact with the deceased. I didn’t find that aspect of the linked story difficult to understand, personally.

  25. It is also amazing what you can accomplish if you can follow simple instructions.

    Which is remarkably easy for a man on the verge of orgasm to do, no?

  26. Did you guys know that God sounds exactly like Spongebob Squarepants?
    JMJ
    Comment by: Jersey McJones at May 25, 2006 11:47 AM

    now what the hell is that supposed to mean?
    what the hell form of religion do you practice? oh – since you and Dave W are such tight pals, you share his imaginary friend. i can dig that. and i support your practice. just don’t expect me to hang out for the orthodox easter service.

    otherwise, that’s got to be about the level of some of my “funny” comments on this board.

    that’s pretty fucking weak.

    OR

    you’re trying to get the goat of some of the religious people here.

    my, how original. would you like to borrow my blow-up Noam Chomsky doll?

  27. Which is remarkably easy for a man on the verge of orgasm to do, no?

    There’s the rub. The instructions are to have it all figured out before taking out little Swillfredo.

  28. A new “line”:

    (holds up condom)

    “Let’s save some lives.”

  29. That Santorum story is sick, is it for real? An open casket funeral is creepy, but a post mortem petting zoo for kids is the work of a deranged mind.

    How can the same guy think it is natural and healthy for young children to pass around a dead baby like a Barbie doll but that playing a video game or viewing a naked breast is evil and will result in permanent damage.

  30. There’s the rub. The instructions are to have it all figured out before taking out little Swillfredo.

    You can’t do that if you’re hoping for coitus interruptus. Also, the rhythm method–the idea of avoiding sex when the woman is most fertile–overlooks (or just doesn’t care about) the fact that for most women, sexual desire is cyclical; the average woman finds her sex drive the strongest during the time when the chance of conception is the greatest.

    Wow! What a brilliant, woman-friendly method of birth control: don’t have sex when you’re horny; have it when you’re not as likely to be in the mood!

    From my Catholic high school days I remember discussions that the efficacy of NFP, when done properly, can be upwards of 98%. That assumes that a woman has predictable cycles, that a couple is very diligent about tracking everything, and that they have the self-control to abstain or use a raincoat when in the fertile zone.

    If the guy’s wearing a raincoat it’s not “Natural Family Planning”, is it?

  31. The rhythm method works well for intelligent and disciplined women with regular cycles.

    It fails for all others.

    One main reason for failure is the fact that women are horniest during ovulation; thus, they are more likely to be “less careful”.

  32. Advice to men: Condoms are much less crappy if you wear the correct size.

  33. A little mathematics, folks.

    A 98% success rate, assuming sex once a week, works out to one pregnancy every year, on average. So you assume no nookie for the last six months of the pregnancy, and for six months afterwards, and a method with a 98% success rate would lead to a child being conceived every two years.

    Ever do the math on the birth dates of the kids in large, traditional Irish families that don’t use any form of birth control?

  34. If the guy’s wearing a raincoat it’s not “Natural Family Planning”, is it?

    God made latex so it sounds natural to me.

    the average woman finds her sex drive the strongest during the time when the chance of conception is the greatest.

    That makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary standpoint, but since God created the earth 4,000 years ago we have to assume he knew what he was doing. It is a test of your commitment to God and your faith. That you must abstain during your greatest moments of temptation is a minor nuisance compared to the bliss you will enjoy eternally at the right hand of the father, provided that you spill not your seed. And it ain’t any easier for the guy to abstain, take the female libido at its peak and that is pretty much the male sex drive 365/24/7.

  35. SP’s last post makes me suspect he’s just kidding.

    At least I hope so.

  36. SP’s last post makes me suspect he’s just kidding.

    I refuse to surrender to the silliness of emoticons but I am kidding. I am a collapsed Catholic with a passing familiarity of the cult. I enjoy the hell out of their rigidity and suicidal adherance to tradition. The Church’s stance on birth control is absolutely foolish. It just so happens that my wife and I used NFP for a while because BCPs were hell on her and I cannot stand rubbers. That and we were in that transitional stage between being DINKs and parents so if she got pregnant cool, if not, cool too.

    It annoys the crap out of me that the Morning After pill is not sold next to the Skittles in the checkout line, but I think there are more to blame that on than just Catholics.

  37. whats the vaticans stance on BCP if its to regulate a womans cycle? do they have one? please forgive my ingorance

  38. Swillfredo, the Earth was created 6000 years ago, not 4000.

    blasphemer.

  39. Joe, I could be wrong, but I thought the “98%” figure was the chance of conception after a year of regular intercourse. As in, the pill has a 99% success rate, the condom has a 98% success rate, etc. Not that that means I oppose use of the pill and condoms, or that NFP actually has that sort of success rate, but I believe that’s the claim.

    DHC: The church says it’s perfectly okay to do something that prevents conception as long as that’s not the aim. So you can have a hysterectomy if it’s needed for some non-contraceptive medical reason. For that matter, you can have a medical procedure that kills the fetus if the procedure is necessary for something else and the fetus-killing is an unfortunate side effect. Similarly, if you have a medical reason to use the pill unrelated to contraception, that’s okay. But they say you shouldn’t use the pill, or anything else, with the goal of contraception.

  40. Rand wrote an interesting little essay on the Catholic Church’s seemingly self contradictory policies on birth control, wherein she showed that the basic goal of the policy was not to either oppose or endorse contraception per se, but to endorse ineffective contraception. This ensures that it is impossible for a loyal follower of the Church to have worry-free, guilt-free sex. You can practice contraception (the ‘rhythm method’) so it is OK for humans to interfere with the process of creating babies. But it’s not OK if such interference would allow the good Catholic to fuck away without having to worry that a baby might result. This denies the followers of the Pope the unalloyed joy of carnal pleasure, which would compete with the Church for the attention of the soul.

    In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether a Catholic restricts him/her self to the ‘rhythm method.’ If they actually use effective contraception, they must accept the guilt for doing so, which again destroys the pure joy of guilt free, worry free sex.

  41. Without commenting on the usual raft of tiresome and unavoidable issues regarding Catholicism, I have to say that the article itself was an enormous waste of time. None of it works unless one assumes that fetal viability decreases as one moves away from peak fertility in the menstrual cycle, which the author (almost cheerfully) concedes is completely unproven; indeed, not merely unproven, but lacking in any evidentiary support whatsoever. Oh, but it’s so totally plausible! Good enough!

    Sheesh. Talk about taking things on faith…

  42. So you assume no nookie for the last six months of the pregnancy, and for six months afterwards

    Why the hell would you assume that?

    whats the vaticans stance on BCP if its to regulate a womans cycle? do they have one? please forgive my ingorance

    I don’t know that “the Vatican” per se has ever opined on the subject, but Catholic moral theologians would presumably analyze the question by applying the principle of double effect (which is also, BTW, how they evaluate the morality of civilian casualties resulting from the bombing of military targets in war, or, for that matter, the morality of coitus at a point in the cycle when, if conception results, there is an increased likelihood of the death of any resulting embryo than there is if coitus occurs during other times).

  43. The Church’s position on NFP is that it’s okay as a tool to help space pregnancies, but doing it with the intent of avoiding pregnancy altogether is a sin. Seems pretty consistent with pro-life/pro-procreation on that front.

    Everthing I’ve read about NFP leads me to believe that the efficacy numbers aren’t much better than 90%. The whole thing based on the idea of a predictable fertility window. So good luck with that.

  44. Wow! What a brilliant, woman-friendly method of birth control: don’t have sex when you’re horny; have it when you’re not as likely to be in the mood!

    But Jennifer, something tells me that a religion which has as one of its fundamental beliefs the notion that the son of God could only be born of a pure, innocent untouched virgin is not the place to look for the most enlightened concern for female sexuality and desire. I wonder how much damage has been done to the psyche of women over the years by this ancient mythology of equating purity and innocence with virginity, and the corresponding connection of any kind of sexual desire or behavior with the taint of impurity and sin.

  45. Brian – quite a lot, no doubt. Between this bullshit conception and the propensity for men in positions of power to not be able to keep their hands off young girls (uncles, dads, older brothers, teachers, etc), it makes it hard for a normal guy to befriend and be truely intimate with a nice, well-adjusted girl.

    I know I’m stereotypeing a bit, but there have been very few women whom I’ve met, let alone dated, who didn’t have one or both of these factors messing with their heads.

  46. And to be fair, us guys have plenty of issues of our own that I’m sure many of my ex gf’s would love to tell you about, but as a guy, I have to expound upon what I know.

  47. Sean hit the nail on the head: garbage in, garbage out. The study’s assumptions are not backed up by empirical evidence, or at least not by any citation of such. The third assumption, that an “old” ovum or an “old” sperm will result in a less viable embryo, would be well suited to a medieval medical manual alongside leeching treatments and trial by ordeal.

    The ovum is as old as the woman herself, and the sperm existed in the would-be father’s epididemis long before it entered the woman’s body. Furthermore, the only major contribution of the sperm to the new entity is its DNA; the rest of its mass is absorbed into the much larger ovum. Any decrepitude on its part should have nothing to do with the state of the resulting cell.

    In short, a fine example of sloppy science, of the variety Mr Bailey often posts here when it supports his pre-conceived position on an issue.

  48. To make NFP 100% effective, all you need is one of those Wonka egg-testers, and sperm with friggin laser beams coming out of their heads.

  49. For those who might want to know what the Catholic Church actually has to say on contraception, versus your ignorant straw men:

    Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:

    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.

  50. “[T]he same logic that turned pro-lifers away from morning after pills, IUDs, and pill usage…”

    There is no logic behind christian opposition to birth control. Whether they are right or wrong is irrelevant — their opinions are at best just their own emotional reactions and at worst someone else’s.

  51. whats the vaticans stance on BCP if its to regulate a womans cycle? do they have one?

    NFP = Man recognizing and working with the natural cycle created by God = Good

    BCP = Man regulating (interfering with) the natural cycle created by God = Bad

  52. Objective theory of morality, eh? Coulda fooled me.

  53. Oh, and I love how they try to couch it in terms of you’re “…not giving oneself totally to the other.”

    I see that right after that they talk about the refusal of life (as if refusing to bring life into this world is necessarily evil), but then again talk about giving “…in personal totality.”

    By that logic, her swallowing could be considered “…giving oneself totally to the other.” But that doesn’t make babies.

    Seriously, the people that have to make this shit up must have migraines the size of Texas afterwards.

  54. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:

    Wow. I’ve always known that I could be bitchy from time to time, but I never imagined that I regularly did things that are “intrinsically evil.”

    I read of a case where a rape victim asked her attacker to at least put a condom on before he raped her. I wonder how many Hail Marys the church would have made her recite for her intrinsically evil request?

  55. Jennifer,

    You bring up an interesting point, one which drove a wedge between myself and many “orthodox” Catholics I know when I wrote an article during one of the intermittent furies over condoms being handed out in public schools.

    The teaching about birth control is directed primarily at married couples, and is based on the idea that an otherwise moral act of sexual intercourse is made immoral by the introduction of contraceptives. My question was, in the case of an already immoral sex act (eg fornication, adultery, or in your example, rape), how can using contraceptives be considered immoral, since it’s not “getting in the way of” a good action?

    Needless to say, I was quickly denounced as a lubricator of slopes.

  56. every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act

    “Conjugal act” implies that we’re talking about intercourse within marriage. Non-marital rape certainly does not qualify.

  57. I have never understood why anyone would take advice on contraception or sex practices from celibate priests. It is like asking your dog to teach you to drive.

  58. Jennifer: Of course you regularly do things which are intrinsically evil. You can’t help it, because you were born intrinsically evil, a fallen creature, sinful from the moment of conception because those two innocents back in paradise ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And of course, the only way to save yourself is to hand over your mind to the church, turn off your thinking, reasoning brain, and confess to the proper authorities just how inherently depraved you are on a regular basis. Then, they’ll let you drink the wine and chew the wafer, and you’ll temporarily be right with the big guy in the sky.

    Oh, and don’t forget to put lots of money in the collection plate on the way out.

  59. Scott,

    Well, that begs the question: are they celibate? 🙂

    ______________________________

    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality…

    Prove it. 🙂

    _______________________________

    Lowdog,

    Happily we can all simply ignore this stupidity without any consequences whatsoever.

    crimethink,

    The third assumption, that an “old” ovum or an “old” sperm will result in a less viable embryo, would be well suited to a medieval medical manual alongside leeching treatments and trial by ordeal.

    I am afraid that age (and thus the age of the gametes) does effect fertility (at least the age of the woman); this is well known and in part why IVF is so popular.

    Also, have you ever asked yourself why older women have a higher chance of birthing children with birth defects? In part it is due to the problems associated with aging of the eggs that human females carry around in them.

  60. whats the vaticans stance on BCP if its to regulate a womans cycle? do they have one?

    NFP = Man recognizing and working with the natural cycle created by God = Good

    BCP = Man regulating (interfering with) the natural cycle created by God = Bad

  61. For those of you who are not just lockstep, closed-minded fearful atheists, Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is the doorway into the infinitely rich and rewarding teachings of the Church on sexual love.

  62. papist,

    For those of you who are not just lockstep, closed-minded fearful atheists, Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is the doorway into the infinitely rich and rewarding teachings of the Church on sexual love.

    Yes, it is so “open-minded” to imply that the only way to human happiness is through the teachings of the RCC. You fisk your ownself.

  63. And remember, you are a “close-minded atheist” if you happen to disagree with the RCC. For truly it is the case that anyone with an “open mind” would automatically agree with anything that the RCC teaches. For me, being “open minded” is assuming that people can honestly come to different conclusions on the question of God’s existance, etc. For people like “papist” apparently that is an impossibility.

  64. PL,

    You may be right about the age of the ovum affecting the health of the zygote it produces. However, when the article refers to “old” ova, it isn’t talking about ova of older women — which actually are old ova — but ova that have been floating in the fallopian tubes for an above-average duration. The article doesn’t explain how floating in the fallopian tubes degrades the ovum beyond claiming that such a notion is “plausible”.

  65. even diploid (non-ova, non-sperm) cells usually have a limited life span. certainly this is true of gametes as well. crimethink, your assertion that eggs are as old as the woman is is not correct, since eggs are developed from the maturation and division of follicles in the ovaries. I suppose one could debate when a cell’s life begins, since cells are derived from previously existing cells, but strictly speaking, the ova are as old as the time that has elapsed since the 2nd meiotic division that produces them is completed.

  66. crimethink,

    The article doesn’t explain how floating in the fallopian tubes degrades the ovum beyond claiming that such a notion is “plausible”.

    Upon reading the article I see what you are getting at. Nevertheless, it is plausible, and I think your earlier characterization of such a concept is unfair and unmerited (especially as the author admits that it is not backed by empirical evidence). Indeed, what the article really is this, a thought experiment, and useful one I think.

  67. biologist,

    OK, I was under the (possibly incorrect) impression that at birth, a woman has all the ova she ever will have. My question, I guess, is are the ova still being produced after puberty? If not, my point still stands; the “age” of an ovum has little to do with the length of its stay in the fallopian tubes.

  68. PL,

    The author’s acknowledgement that his central assumption hasn’t a shred of empirical evidence to back it up, in a single sentence buried in the two-page article, does not give his argument any more legitimacy. Especially when the title and headline make the claim that the rhythm method (and thus NFP) causes embryonic deaths.

  69. I generally prefer rythmic sex.

    And arithmic sex can be pretty good with the right partner. Its a skill.

  70. crimethink,

    I’d say that it was one of the assumptions of the article. I also don’t think that the title is as provocative as you say that it is.

  71. Articles like this always get me mad. Dammit, FDA, give us chemical male birth control now! It’s been shown to work since 1996, shown reversible for at least the last 5 years, no side effects save rare acne and weight gain (much less than the effects of the female Pill), so what’s the frigging hold up? Do those people like abstinence/child support/shotgun weddings? Boggles the damn mind, it does.

  72. Did you guys know that God sounds exactly like Spongebob Squarepants?

    God is Spongebob, Spongebob is God.

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