Understanding Birth Control Options
There are a wide variety of birth control options available, and everyone has different preferences. With careful research, one should be able to find a contraceptive that meets their needs.
Here are some of the most common types of birth control.
Short-term contraceptives are birth control methods that work in short time intervals. This type of birth control usually require effort from the user daily, weekly, or monthly to continue working properly. The three most common short-term contraceptives are:
- Pill: Birth control pills are taken by mouth daily to prevent pregnancy. Some types of birth control pills only contain the hormone progestin and work by thickening the cervical mucus, which prevents the sperm from reaching the uterus. Some pills contain both progestin and estrogen, which prevents the body from ovulating. Birth control pills should be taken around the same time each day.
- Patch: Also known as the Ortho Evra, the birth control patch sticks to the skin of your abdomen, upper arm, back, or bottom. It releases estrogen and progestin, so it prevents ovulation and stops the sperm from meeting the egg. For three weeks, you have to change the patch weekly. Then, you can remove the patch on the fourth week of the month.
- Ring: The birth control ring is a small, flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina monthly. It should remain in the vagina for three weeks and be taken out for the last week of the month. The ring releases estrogen and progestin into the body to prevent pregnancy.
Short-term contraceptives are popular because their effects are easily reversible. With most short-term birth controls, the side effects will go away as soon as a person stops taking them, and one can get pregnant right away after going off them.
Short-term birth control is also highly effective when you use it correctly every time. The pill, patch, and ring all have about a 99 percent effectiveness rate when used properly. However, because they require frequent action from the user, there’s room for human error. In reality, short-term contraceptives have an average effectiveness rate of about 91 percent because it’s easy to forget to take the pill or switch out the patch or ring.
Long-Acting Non-Daily Contraception
Long-acting forms of contraception last for months or even years without requiring any effort from the user. Three of the most popular long-acting contraceptives are:
- Hormonal Injection: The birth control injection, also known as Depo-Provera, is a hormonal shot that lasts for three months. It can be injected into the arm or the buttocks. Unlike most birth control methods, the shot doesn’t contain estrogen. It only contains progestin, which thickens the cervical mucus and stops the sperm from reaching the eggs. The birth control shot can also prevent ovulation.
- Intrauterine System: The intrauterine system, or IUS, is a small, T-shaped piece of plastic that is placed in the uterus. It contains progestin and prevents pregnancy by thickening the cervical mucus. Some people don’t ovulate while using the IUS, but most continue ovulating. Depending on the brand, the IUS can last for three to five years before needing to be replaced.
- Copper Intrauterine Device: The copper intrauterine device, or IUD, looks and functions like the IUS, but it doesn’t release any hormones. Instead, the copper produces an inflammatory reaction that is hostile for the sperm and eggs. The IUD can last for up to 10 years, but it can be removed at any time.
Because these contraceptives are so long-lasting, they are usually highly effective. When you only need a new dose or a new device every few months or years, there are few opportunities for human error. The copper IUD has a 99.2 percent effectiveness rate with typical use, and the IUS has a 99.8 percent effectiveness rate. The injection has a 94 percent success rate with typical use, but it is effective more than 99 percent of the time when used perfectly.
Side effects are common with long-term contraceptives, but may go away after the first few months. Some common side effects include menstrual changes, cramping, dizziness, headaches, and bloating. It’s possible for the body to expel the IUS or IUD, too, so users should check regularly to make sure the device is still in place.
Barrier contraceptives create a physical barrier between the sperm and egg to prevent fertilization. Three popular options are:
- Condoms: Condoms catch the sperm and prevent it from entering the vagina and reaching the egg. It is one of the only birth control options that protect you from STDs. When used perfectly every time, condoms are about 98 percent effective. With typical use, they’re about 82 percent effective.
- Diaphragms: A diaphragm is a dome-shaped latex cup that is inserted into the vagina before sex. It blocks the cervix, so sperm cannot pass into the uterus. In order for the diaphragm to work properly, it must be covered on all sides with spermicide to form a tight seal, and it should be left in place for at least six hours after sex. When used perfectly, the diaphragm has a 94 percent effectiveness rate. With typical use, it’s about 88 percent effective.
- Spermicides: Spermicide is a substance that prevents pregnancy by restricting the movement of the sperm. It comes in foam, gel, cream, and film forms, and it should be inserted into the vagina before sex. When used correctly, it has an effectiveness rate of 85 percent. With typical use, it’s around 71 percent effective. Spermicide works best when used alongside another birth control method, but some people do choose to use it as their primary contraceptive.
Barrier methods of birth control don’t use hormones, so they don’t cause as many side effects as hormonal contraceptives. If you can’t use a birth control that contains estrogen or progestin, a barrier method may be a good option. With the exception of diaphragms, barrier methods don’t require a prescription or a visit to the doctor, so they’re a convenient option for many people.
Because this type of birth control has to be applied or inserted every time you have sex, barrier methods are less effective than other forms of birth control. While these are highly effective when used perfectly, most people aren’t able to use them perfectly every time.
All methods of birth control have pros and cons. To decide which contraceptive is best, one should speak to your doctor and do careful research. Most importantly, one should use your contraceptives carefully and according to a physician’s instructions for the best chance at preventing pregnancy.