Contraception is usually a taboo topic and while there is abundant factual information on the different methods available, the personal experiences of those methods is not something I for one would necessarily want to read about from a non-Muslim source! Sisters have shared their experiences here to shed some light on the practicalities of contraception for Muslim women.
The Islamic ruling on contraception, in summary, prohibits anything that permanently stops the chance of a pregnancy, such as vasectomy or sterilisation (unless medically necessary), and prohibits anything that causes harm. Allowable are methods that temporarily stop pregnancy without causing harm or damaging an existing pregnancy, and must only be used in consultation between husband and wife.
For many sisters, contraception becomes necessary at some point in their lives. For some, it’s wanting to delay a pregnancy, for others it’s a desire to space their children to make things more manageable. Safia*, for example said “I was in a very bad marriage with the father of my three children. My children were, and still are, everything to me, but I just didn’t need that extra complication of another pregnancy and baby.”
Natasha* and Samantha*, both young reverts, felt that they were too young and needed to finish their studies before starting a family. For Samantha, being new to the deen and newly married was also a factor. Another sister, Amy* shared, “I always knew having a baby every year would just be too much on me physically.”
Once a couple have decided to use contraception, the next question is often – which method?
The most commonly known hormonal method is probably ‘the pill’. There are others including injections, implants and IUDs. They work by mimicking the body’s own hormones to stop the ovary releasing an egg and/or thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the uterine lining to prevent fertilisation and implantation. Aisha* uses the pill Yaz for a variety of reasons – not only as birth control, but also to control depression, severe cramps and other issues she was having before going on birth control. She said, “I love my pill, I call it my magic pill! I have other medical issues that the pill works for flawlessly – I’ve never had any side effects, other than feeling absolutely amazing as long as I’m taking it regularly.”
While in a bad marriage, Safia had a contraceptive injection which was supposed to last 6 months; she says it was a bad move, “I didn’t get a period for almost a year, I put on weight and my hormones were all out of sync.” A few years later, she remarried and now takes Microgynon, “as I know it doesn’t have bad side effects, and won’t mess up my system. And also, it’s not a long term thing, you can get pregnant after 7 days of not taking it! The nurse did give me the option of a few more longer-term contraceptives, but I really don’t want to risk “messing up” my body again.”
For Samantha, the pill seemed like the easiest and most reliable option when she was newly married but, she says “I do prefer having a monthly cycle as normal, and enjoy intimacy more than when I was on the pill so I’d be reluctant to go back to a hormonal method.” Natasha says her husband and most Egyptians think that the pill will be harmful to the couple when they do want to start a family and she wanted “an alternative, healthier solution.”
These methods work by blocking the sperm from the egg and so preventing fertilisation. Condoms and the diaphragm come under this heading. For Natasha and her husband, condoms are something they both feel comfortable with. Samantha shares that they take a bit of getting used to but “now seem just part and parcel of the experience and go almost unnoticed.” Amy finds the diaphragm and spermicide a bit fiddly but effective and says, “I wouldn’t bother with condoms, too fiddly, not very reliable and passion killers.” Claire* doesn’t use condoms at the moment but she feels that, “after reading the available ahadith on the subject, I personally feel confident that condoms are similar enough to withdrawal that they are allowed – Allah knows best.” For many of these sisters. they switched to a barrier method having been dissatisfied or worried about using a hormonal method.
Natural family planning
This involves tracking ovulation by using temperature charting, cervical secretions and/or cervical position as a guide – the Billings method is one such method. It can be used to prevent pregnancy or to get pregnant.
Many sisters used hormonal and barrier methods but found they didn’t suit them. Layla* wasn’t comfortable with the idea of unbalancing her body’s natural hormones. She tried condoms and femidoms, even latex free varieties but found they all caused irritation, so she decided to try natural family planning. She said “It does require you to be very strict about taking your temperature at exactly the same time every day, which some people may find hard.” It takes about three months to fully understand your cycle but when done correctly, this method should be 99% effective. Layla added that “you feel more in tune with your body, and I think it helps to have dialogue around fertility and the changes you see in your body during your cycle, rather than being embarrassed to talk about it.”
Jane* also had similar feelings about natural family planning – that it has allowed her to get to know and understand her body more. She is a revert from Catholicism and feels uncomfortable about using material forms of contraception, and shared, “The Billings method (natural family planning), for me, is the easiest form of contraception without introducing personal obstacles to guilt-free marital intimacy.” By tracking her ovulation. she has been alerted to times when ovulation has occurred later in her cycle than usual and has been “immediately alerted to [her] increased stress levels, and therefore been able to recognise the cause(s) and act upon them, alhamdulillah.” For Jane, the method has not proved foolproof as she has had two wanted, but unexpected pregnancies as a result of forgetting about doing her daily checks or only doing one. She added that if you absolutely hope Allah (SWT) will not grant you children then this is probably not the method for you.”
For sisters like Claire and Samantha, breastfeeding acted as a natural contraceptive for a time. For Samantha, breastfeeding allowed a two year gap between her two children. Claire has used a combination of exclusively breastfeeding and abstinence over most of the past ten years as she has four children, alhamdulillah. She has used hormonal methods such as the pill and IUD in the past, but is no longer interested in them due to the side effects. She shared, “I’ve had greater success and felt more whole and sane using more natural methods. Alhamdulillah, I actually prefer abstinence while I am breastfeeding for the full two years and have no desire for sex anyway (which, from what I hear from other ladies is one version of normal).” She says that if and when she is ready for intimacy again, she will use condoms, charting or withdrawal.
Amy too, is excited about the new apps for tracking one’s cycle for help in getting pregnant as well as prevention.
For some sisters, hormonal methods work seamlessly and indeed also help with other medical issues. For others a barrier method offers reliability, is relatively hassle free and doesn’t interfere with hormonal balance. And there are sisters who’ve chosen the natural route, in turn feeling more confident about, and more in tune with their bodies – which can only be a good thing. Whichever method of family planning is used, it’s always good to remember that Allah (SWT) is the best of planners.
• The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: the Frequency Factor, by Sheila Kipley
• The Billings Method, by Evelyn Billings and Ann Westmore
Catherine Clarke is an Irish revert and History graduate who lives in Scotland with her two young children. She has an interest in all things health, fitness and family related.