Book Review: “The Contraception Guidebook” by William Cutrer and Sandra Glahn

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 at 11:44 am

Subtitled “Options, Risks, and Answers for Christian Couples”, Cutrer and Glahn’s The Contraception Guidebook attempts to provide “medically reliable, Biblically sound” information regarding contraception for Christian couples. In my opinion, this book not only attempts but succeeds at providing medically reliable, Biblically sound information.

The first section of the book provides background for contraception. In chapter two, we review a brief history of contraception through the ages (oh boy, women used to put some really disgusting things in their vagina) and take a look at some of the modern contraception myths (for instance, that a woman can’t get pregnant while she’s on her period.) In chapter three, the authors discuss the purpose of sex from a Biblical standpoint. It is important to note that the authors do NOT discuss the quiver-full type argument (that children are a blessing and that conception should never be prevented) in this section. Instead, the authors save this discussion for the very last section of the book, when they discuss the theological implications of family planning, especially in light of the command/blessing to “be fruitful and multiply” and the clear Scriptural teaching that “children are a blessing from the Lord”. The fourth chapter of the book, and the final chapter in the first section, discusses the basic functioning of the male and female reproductive systems.

While I appreciated the overall content of the first and last sections of the book, I probably would have preferred to have had them laid out in a different manner. My preference would have been to have all the theological implications of contraception (the purpose of sex, the theological implications of family planning, and the sanctity of human life) combined at the beginning of the book before discussing methods of contraception. Instead, the authors seem to assume that their readers are in favor of the idea of contraception, even though they might be confused about appropriate methods of contraception. Only in the last section of the book do they address questions of the appropriateness of family planning at all.

I also have to say that, while I generally agree with the authors’ conclusions regarding the theological appropriateness of family planning (versus taking a Quiver-full type approach), I do not feel that this book is particularly useful to those who are wrestling with that question. The real strength of this book is in the second section, which deals with methods of contraception.

The second section gets into the nitty-gritty of contraception options, discussing Natural Family Planning, a variety of barrier methods, spermicides, hormonal methods, and sterilization techniques. The authors carefully address what each option includes, what the mechanism of action for each method is, as well as any ethical considerations. The authors are clearly opposed to abortion (as they ought to be)–and they carefully evaluate each method for any potential abortifacient effect.

This was probably the most interesting section for me (and probably the section most readers are looking for). I appreciated how comprehensive the authors are, discussing not just broad groups of birth control methods, but getting into the details of each. For example, in Natural Family Planning (NFP), the authors address withdrawal (not an effective form of contraception), the calendar method, breastfeeding as contraception, the ovulation method, the sympto-thermal method, monitoring cervical changes, hormone tests, and saliva tests. I use natural family planning as an example not because it is promoted as the best method of contraception (the authors don’t appear to have any strong biases towards any particular form of contraceptive, apart from being strictly opposed to abortifacients), but because it is a form of birth control that I haven’t seen covered a lot in other literature.

I have done quite a bit of reading on birth control methods in the past–first because I was a student health aide, then because I was interested in pretty much anything to do with women’s health (I wanted to be a midwife, once upon a time), but also as Daniel and I were preparing for marriage. But in all my reading, I have rarely, if ever, seen a balanced look at NFP. Almost everything I’ve read has basically said “Natural Family Planning uses various methods to predict ovulation and works by avoiding intercourse during times of peak fertility. NFP requires a lot of work and isn’t always very accurate.”

This book, on the other hand, carefully addresses the techniques behind different methods of predicting ovulation–and gives the relative effectiveness of each. It turns out that NFP can be a highly effective form of birth control given enough information (that is, enough information about one’s own cycle).

Honestly, I really wish I’d read this book before I got married. If I had, I might have more seriously considered NFP combined with a barrier method from the beginning–and started collecting data (basal body temperature, cervical changes, mucous changes) to make our predictions more effective. As it is, we’re having to be pretty conservative (in other words, using condoms or a diaphragm most of the time) because we can’t pinpoint my ovulation very closely from the currently available data.

I’m glad that this book is very thorough regarding the different methods of contraception, addressing the pros and cons of each, including the relative effectiveness of different methods. For this reason, I highly recommend this book to couples who are trying to decide which method of contraception to use or who want to evaluate their current contraceptive use in light of the sanctity of life.

Rating:4 Stars
Category:Christian Living/Medical
Synopsis:An in-depth look at contraceptive choices from a pro-family, pro-life perspective.
Recommendation: An excellent choice for couples trying to weigh their contraceptive options (the most thorough treatment of the subject that I’ve ever read.)

Reader Comments (8):

  1. Melinda says:

    Thanks for the review; it sounds like it might be a book I would be interested in.

    My mom recommended on more than one occasion that I begin learning about my cycle long before I got married (even before I met Jason). But I never did. I definitely wished I had listened to her after we got married. Information about my cycle would have come in handy then!

  2. Word Lily says:

    I highly recommend the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility as another, in-depth look at NFP through various life stages. And I’ve heard very good things about the ease of use of the Creighton Method (I don’t know if there’s a book to teach that NFP method or not.). The information gained is so valuable, aside from the contraception aspects! I also have friends who use a smart phone app, from fertilityfriend(.com) to track everything rather than working on paper. HTH

    • admin says:

      Thanks for commenting, Word Lily. I’ll definitely have to take a look at Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I’ve been using another smart-phone app, Ovuview for tracking fertility–and I’ve been pretty pleased with the free version so far.

  3. mangsta2 says:

    Hahaha, I like your analysis of the authors’ ideas and placement of theological discussion. They [quite possibly, wrongly] assume that their readers are in favor of the idea of contraception. This is because most people prefer to dabble in details rather than work out the over-arching ideas which enable one to fill in the details. You admitted that the book really doesn’t serve those who wrestle with the theological questions surrounding contraception. I would guess that the authors include this discussion more out of obligation (perhaps faithful obligation) than true interest. It is, after all, built on an assumption, and interesting things seldom are. That’s what makes them interesting!

  4. Barbara H. says:

    Sounds like a great resource – we could have used something like this when we got married.

    We had planned on using NFP until my doctor, also a Christian, felt it violated I Cor. 7:5.

    • admin says:

      I tend to agree with your doctor regarding the “pure” practice of NFP. It seems inappropriate to me to be avoiding married sex just when the wife’s desire is greatest. That’s why Daniel and I practice NFP in conjunction with barrier/chemical methods (condoms or diaphragm with spermicide). That way, we have greater freedom and aren’t depriving one another at those critical times.

  5. Today I learned one can get pregnant on her period. I seriously had no idea.

    I wonder if the author talked about how the abortion rate goes up in areas where contraceptives are socially accepted. It is interesting that there is a general consensus that contraceptives are fine or at the very least neutral. Like, oh obviously everyone agrees so let’s talk about which ones to use.

    • admin says:

      I’m glad you learned something from my blog :-) It’s actually based on the idea that sperm can survive for about 5 days in the vagina prior to ovulation–so if you happen to ovulate within five days of the end of bleeding…

      I’ve never really explored the link between contraceptive use and abortion; and neither did the authors. I think one would have to design that sort of study pretty well to control for general attitude towards children and the sanctity of life. But, yes, it is interesting that so many make the assumption that contraceptive use is neutral–without really exploring the issue much.

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