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It's Time For a New Debate on Contraception

25/04/2013 15:26 BST | Updated 25/06/2013 10:12 BST

Let's talk about sex.

Earlier this week, a High Court in England effectively redefined the meaning of rape after it ruled that consensual sex between two people was no longer consensual should a man do something he was specifically asked not to do during intercourse - and the court's ruling is 100% spot-on. That being said, the case that instigated these changes is clearly indicative of just how vital it is that Britain open up a new debate regarding how we talk about sex and contraception.

Indeed, the precedent for the ruling was brought forth by a test case in which a wife claimed her husband broke their pre-sex agreement by failing to withdraw. The couple - who had been married under Islamic law - agreed to have sex after the husband said he would withdraw when the time came, as his wife was 'adamant that she did not want another child'. Apparently the husband went back on his word whilst in the act, stating that he would 'do what he wanted', and made the woman pregnant.

On the one hand, it's pretty easy to see where the judges who ruled in the woman's favour were coming from. After all, had she known that her husband would not withdraw, she would not have offered her consent in the first place; therefore, she was clearly deprived of a crucial choice where her original consent was concerned. That undeniably qualifies as statutory rape. Yet it's also worth noting that, in agreeing to have sex via withdrawal, a woman should know that she's subsequently agreeing to a potential pregnancy.

Unfortunately, most men's brains aren't directly wired to their genitals; therefore, even when they agree to 'pull out', the chances are quite good that they'll either get caught up in the heat of things and 'forget', or they'll merely fail where timing is concerned. Yet even if they do pull out in time, withdrawal is a shoddy form of contraception at best. In fact, according to Planned Parenthood, pre-ejaculation ensures that for every 100 women whose partners use withdrawal, 27 become pregnant if it isn't done 'correctly' - as do around 4% of women who perform the procedure by the book. In short: if you agree to sex via withdrawal, you're definitely chancing it.

Now, the test case involved in this hearing was a slightly special one, in that the couple's religion was clearly the driving factor behind their choice of withdrawal as a form of contraception. Like many Roman Catholics, followers of Islam regard children as a gift from God; therefore, many practitioners frown upon birth control methods. Yet contrary to common belief, eight of the nine classic schools of Islamic law actually permit contraception. What's more, it should be duly noted that the Qur'an does not explicitly prohibit contraception, and a lot of Islamic scholars have argued that any method of contraception is acceptable so long as it doesn't have a permanent effect on a woman's body.

Many followers of Islam and Catholicism would beg to differ, and could no doubt make a compelling religious case against birth control methods; however, it's only right that couples who truly want to engage in the use of contraception that works (ie not withdrawal) be able to do so in the privacy of their own home without fear of religious repercussions. After all, in demanding that a couple who aren't compatible or ready for parenthood abstain from using contraception, religious orders probably condemn countless children to unwanted lives of abuse - is that not far crueller than simply allowing religious followers the freedom to plan when and how their families grow?

The test case used to validate changing the boundaries that constitute consensual sex is completely outdated and nonsensical; however, it's also clearly a realistic and widespread dilemma amongst religious followers that needs addressed. It's hard to say whether this is best corrected via additional funding to sexual education programmes, or by simply pressing religious leaders to accept an ever-evolving set of ecumenical principles. Yet something must be done.

Sex is a part of life, and women need to be aware of how they can effectively use contraception - and more vitally, how said contraception may not directly contradict their religious views. People live and die by the way governments and religions alike try to sweep debates on sex and contraception under the rug - so it's time to stop dismissing these topics as 'taboo', and instead spend a little more time talking about these vital elements of life. After all, the issue of misinformation surrounding contraception is all too real - and the consequences for some are dire.