Msnowe's Blog

Bead Bullocks

Posted in beads, kumquats, reproductive health, scientific study, women by m.snowe on March 31, 2008
Let’s say you’re a kumquat farmer with a crop of enough kumquats to form a line from one end of the Great Wall to the other. You’re crouched down, still constructing your bright orange line of juicy beads when you realize you’re mid-Mongolia and still haven’t found a decent market for your tiny delights. You just don’t understand how people couldn’t catch on–they did with the pomegranate, that sissy of a fruit with an anus-shaped sprout and wussy little red seeds. Then your reach a Confucian-like epiphany: you ask yourself: How can I make people realize how wonderful and beneficial my fruit is, so that I can make a profit?

1. People like exotic/alternative/new age and different things.
2. People like “natural” remedies, even if they’re enhanced with chemicals.
3. People are easily persuaded by “scientific” studies.
4. People like numbers, percentages, and doctor recommendations.

So your little kumquat dream can soon become a reality–all you need is a kumquat-obsessed doctor, a few small piles of research grant money, and a couple kumquat advocate test-dummies, and you’ve got yourself a legitimate pitch for kumquat supremacy. Before you know it, Oprah is extolling the fruit’s greatness, and having celebrities tumble on her couch with squirt bottles of your newly minted Kumquat Quench lifted in triumph between the healthy jumps so vigorous even their surgically enhanced breasts jiggle. Your commercials praise the natural rejuvenatory qualities of a good kumquat enriched diet, with “facts” from your study to back up the claims. All is well and good–people don’t know that your study was conducted by you, for the sole purpose of fashioning the study and results so that no other outcomes but positive ones could be reached. Granted, kumquats won’t kill you–but they certainly might have been as advantageous if they we squashed against the side of the Great Wall, to give it a bit of color.

So what happens when this type of marketing and branding technique, which is overtly flawed, enters into the arena of public health and awareness campaigns? What happens when the private interests, and family values agenda, seep into scientific study? Well, in short, nothing good. Apply the aspects of the above example to this story on so-called “natural birth control” and it’s effectiveness.

First, let’s look at this story on the pure surface of the reporting, without digging deeper into the source or accuracy of the data (which will come next). Here’s a quote from the article:
Family planning groups, health ministries and community development organizations introduced SDM at 14 different sites in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Problem: These groups are already targeted towards people who would rather really try this method. As a rule of thumb, any health organization called a “ministry” inevitably is tied to a religious organization of some sort. Also, look at the testing sites: Latin America leads the group, and Latin American is heavily Christian. Also, there are many studies of African reproductive health that report that religion sponsored programs of celibacy are not effective in preventing the spread STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Since this “family planning” method is based on abstinence for at least eight to twelve days a month, it flies in the face of other proven tests.
Problem #2 with the article, shown in this quote:
There were 14.1 pregnancies for every 100 women per year of use of the method, which was comparable to the 12 pregnancies per 100 woman years found in a 2002 clinical trial of the method.
Does ANYONE think that 14 out of a 100 is a GOOD, LOW number? 14% of ALL women using this method would get pregnant. Contraception such as the pill and even just a condom have up to a 99% effectiveness rate. That means, used correctly, women on the pill have a LESS THAN 1% shot of becoming pregnant (verses 14 out of 100 with the beads) So how can they endorse this method?

Problem #3 (And perhaps the most pernicious of all):
“Men reported being very satisfied with the method, and a significant number of men reported being involved in some way in helping their partner to use this method,” she noted, for example reminding a woman to move the marker on the beads or making sure to have condoms available on a woman’s fertile days.
While it’s a lovely sentiment that men are “supportive” of this method, it is absolutely delusional to think that men are supportive for the reason implied–that women would be free to discard hormone-shifting pills and be more in tune with her cycle. Fact: Men absolutely hate using condoms. No one can blame them, it’s like putting an oven mitt over your back massager. But this is awful–truly, because not only does it suggest a fabricated and completely unsafe form of preventing pregnancy, it disregards the notion that women should shield themselves from STDs.
The rhetoric of “family planning” should have been the first clue: the whole idea that planning for a family can also mean planning not to have a child is ridiculous in the first place–it merely implies, through it’s title that “it’s okay not to want a child now, but you should have many many babies, and hey, if those darn beads don’t work, well, take out your other set (the rosary) and pray your husband will get that big promotion so you can sit barefoot and pregnant without a care (or original thought) for the rest of your natural existence.” Those two words sure say a lot.

Okay, now on to the not so obvious stuff. This study was conducted by the very same people who manufacture, market, and sell the “cyclebeads.” They sell from anywhere between $14 – $40 a pop. Oh, and did we mention that the 2002 study, performed by Dr. Jennings, the same woman who oversees the research and is the head of the reproductive health center that sells the cyclebeads and teaches the methods, acknowledged the help of the following in her study:

“The authors are particularly grateful to our field collaborators:
Dr. Saleg Eid, Catholic Relief Services, Bolivia…

The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of USAID or Georgetown University. The Standard Days Method and CycleBeads are
trademarks owned by the Georgetown University Institute
for Reproductive Health. CycleBeads are patent pending.”

Hmmmm. Those kumquats sure seem stupid now, don’t they?

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