Friday, 4 March 2011

Birth control, language and honesty

Some of you may know that I'm about to embark on adventures new in the great state of California. In light of this, I've been looking at various medical insurance companies and one of the things that struck me is the difference in terminology used.

Specifically what I'm talking about is how contraception is referred to as birth control. And it got me thinking. Does calling the pill, 'the pill' actually diminish our understanding of it, making it sound innocuous? We don't refer to paracetamol as 'the tablet', or Lemsip as 'the sachet'. British society shies away from using the word contraception in public or in schools, preferring instead to cloak what we're talking about in a description that masks the meaning of what the medication does. If we used the expression 'birth control', would we feel the need to explain that it doesn't protect from STIs? I get the feeling that we wouldn't. It controls whether or not you give birth (after a few long months obviously!). Simple.

In the same way that condoms have a million different contemporary slang terms, the etymology of the word is just as wide and unconfirmed. According to Wiki, Casanova in the 18th century was one of the first reported using "assurance caps" to prevent impregnating his mistresses. There may also have been a Duke of Condom but this has never been confirmed.

The language used around sex fascinates me. Why in fact do we use the word contraception? No-one uses the word conception to indicate pregnancy. You might say that someone was conceived in a particular place, or a couple had trouble conceiving, but aside from 'miraculous conception' the vernacular is now widely considered outdated. So the phrase against (contra) ception means very little to young people.

If you've read my blog before, you may have gleaned the fact that I'm pretty passionate about talking to young people about important issues with openness, honesty and as little bullshit as possible. The less confusion the better.

There may not be much to praise the US medical system about, but this is one thing I think is a good idea. Birth control explains what it does without any of the additional confusion. It doesn't make any false promises or unrealistic expectations about what it does or doesn't do. And the more we have of that the better.

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