Few things in our lives are controlled, understood and maintained on our own. When we go to the grocery store, people may see the bread on the shelves but ignore how flour, sugar, water and yeast reacted to put it there in the first place. So too can be said of the cars we drive, buses we ride and bikes we steer, all of which may and typically are maintained by a specialized group that leaves the rest of us ignorant.

As individuals we rely on others to inform us how our lives should be shaped and run. We are told that this is fine, that these specialists exist to make our lives more convenient and that we do not need to understand how everything works. The time saved allows us to focus on our own pursuits.

For women, our bodies have been similarly fashioned. Menstrual cycles have turned into a veritable organic production line in which outside sources inform us when we are ovulating, when we are pregnant, which method of contraceptive is best, and for hormone-regulating options, when we should be taking it each month.

This disassociation from our bodies may change due to the resurgence of the fertility awareness method (FAM) of contraception.

In comparison to the calendar method in which women guess their ovulation schedule based on previous menstrual cycles, FAM users relies on bodily indicators to determine when they’re ovulating. By tracking spikes and falls in body temperatures while at rest, or basal body temperature, noting increases in cervical mucus and the position of the cervix, women may rely on their own bodies to either become pregnant, or avoid it.

Although WebMD reports that 25 out of 100 women have unintended pregnancies while using FAM, it still provides a viable alternative to hormone birth control, which provides its own disadvantages: possible bone loss, blood clots and increased risk to Chlamydia and Gonorrhea.

According to Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, 76 million women in developing countries experience unintended pregnancies annually while 19 million women resort to unsafe abortions.

As for those with access to contraception, there still remains the stigma and cost associated with purchasing them. With proper education, FAM could help women around the world control their lives more effectively, simply by understanding their bodies better.

– Emily Bajet

Sources: WebMD 1, WebMD 2, Mayo Clinic
Photo: Flickr


Early this year the 7 billionth baby was born on Earth, thereby sparking a new round of discussion about the need to implement measures to control population growth.

Developing countries have the highest fertility rates worldwide, with women often having 6-7 children. Bill Gates noted that areas with the highest reproductive rates also have the worst health conditions. Thus, he explains, in order to guarantee that they have 2 children survive into adulthood, women in areas with poor health conditions have more children since only 80-90% of their babies will make it to school age.

The answer to the population problem, Gates says, is to improve global health. If health demographics improve because of better access to vaccines, healthcare, affordable drugs, and hospitals, more children will reach school age. Thus, families will not need to have as many children in order to ensure that some of them survive and, with the institution of family planning programs, fertility rates will drop.

However, in between the improvement in global health and the reduction in fertility rates there is a “demographic transition” in the population. With better health, more children will survive and live longer. However, before women start utilizing family planning programs, there is a sort of ‘lag time’ where both birth and survival rates are high. Thus there forms a bulge in the population that does not decrease until women stop having as many children. This means that even after there are improvements in global health, population may increase before it begins to steadily decline as a result direct result of lower fertility rates.

Hans Rosling says that in order to create a sustainable population for the future, there must be improvements in global health today that ensure that 90% of children everywhere in the world make it to their 5th birthday. Not implementing these measures today could mean the difference between 8.3 billion people and 9.3 billion people living on Earth in the near future.

– KC Harris

Source: The Borgen Project Slate TED
Source: A Matter of Instinct