Family planning services are "the ability of individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births. It is achieved through use of contraceptive methods and the treatment of involuntary infertility." Family planning may involve consideration of the number of children a woman wishes to have, including the choice to have no children and the age at which she wishes to have them. These matters are influenced by external factors such as marital situation, career considerations, financial position, and any disabilities that may affect their ability to have children and raise them. If sexually active, family planning may involve the use of contraception and other techniques to control the timing of reproduction.
Family planning has been of practice since the 16th century by the people of Djenné in West Africa. Physicians advised women to space their children, having them every three years rather than too many and too quickly. Other aspects of family planning include sex education, prevention and management of sexually transmitted infections, pre-conception counseling and management, and infertility management. Family planning, as defined by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, encompasses services leading up to conception. Abortion is not a component of family planning, although access to contraception and family planning reduces the desire for abortion.
Family planning is sometimes used as a synonym or euphemism for access to and the use of contraception. However, it often involves methods and practices in addition to contraception. Additionally, many might wish to use contraception but are not necessarily planning a family (e.g., unmarried adolescents, young married couples delaying childbearing while building a career). Family planning has become a catch-all phrase for much of the work undertaken in this realm. However, contemporary notions of family planning tend to place a woman and her childbearing decisions at the center of the discussion, as notions of women's empowerment and reproductive autonomy have gained traction in many parts of the world. It is usually applied to a female-male couple who wish to limit the number of children they have or control pregnancy timing (also known as spacing children).