No one wants to have an unwanted pregnancy, so that’s why you need to know all about birth control. Here is your go-to guide to make you feel safe.
There are some people who don’t use birth control, even if they should. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to know which one to use and what’s most effective. But you should be knowledgeable about your options.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended. This is a staggering number, seeing as there are over 6.6 million pregnancies a year.
The institute goes on to say that births that result from unintended pregnancies are associated with adverse maternal and child health outcomes. Examples include delayed prenatal care, premature birth, and negative physical and mental health effects on the children.
As of February 2015, the Guttmacher Institute also reported that the average American woman spends about five years of her life pregnant, either postpartum or trying to become pregnant, whereas three decades are spent trying to avoid an unintended pregnancy.
This makes up almost three-quarters of her reproductive years. [Read: Pregnancy scare – 17 calm steps for women and men to handle it together]
Statistics published on the site also show that by age 45, more than half of all American women will have experienced an unintended pregnancy, and three in 10 will have had an abortion.
As important as it is that women have the right to choose if she wants to go through with the pregnancy, there is no need for any of that if safe sex measures are taken. [Read: How to have safe sex & the dangers of unprotected sex most don’t know]
How effective is your birth control method?
Let’s start with the most important, yet least likely to be used method of birth control – abstinence.
Abstinence has a 0% chance of pregnancy. If you don’t have sex, you don’t get pregnant. Simple as. [Read: Celibacy vs. abstinence – the real differences that split them apart]
For the stats that really matter, the findings below are much more agreeable to your sexual needs and desires.
The most common methods of birth control used by the majority of the population are male condoms, combination hormone pills, and the “pulling out method.”
According to the 2007 edition of Contraceptive Technology, the most effective method of birth control among those three are pills *99%*, followed by male condoms *98%*, and then pulling out method *96%*.
Note that these are only possible through perfect execution or usage. If you don’t take your birth control pills exactly on time every day, the chances of getting pregnant will increase. The same goes for when you don’t put a condom on properly, or if withdrawal occurs too late.
No method of birth control is perfect, which is why you should always strive to use it responsibly and diligently. [Read: Birth control options and what each of them can do for you]
So, when you hear the words, “Can we take the condom off?” take a little time to think about it.
Why you should start taking the pill or other hormonal birth control methods
Hormonal birth control methods include birth control pills, IUDs, and Depo-Provera injections. All of these are proven to effectively cease ovulation or push it back so that you won’t get pregnant as easily as you would without them.
They don’t guarantee a 100% success rate for preventing unplanned pregnancies, however, and they most especially do not protect from STDs and STIs. [Read: STDs 101 – the most common symptoms and ways to recognize them]
Sadly, the drug that can do that has not been invented yet.
Hormonal birth control is technically the most successful form of birth control, next to surgical means like ligation. Tying or cutting your tubes is not for everyone, especially those who wish to still have children one day.
That’s where hormonal birth control comes in. It gets the job done, while still giving you the chance to change your mind about having kids.
The beauty of taking the pill or having an IUD inserted is that it allows you and your partner to have sex without the need for a condom or withdrawal.
Using those methods can lessen the likelihood of an unplanned pregnancy, but the chances of getting pregnant are still the same regardless of how many methods you use at the same time.
A less than 100% chance of success still means that there’s an itty bitty chance that you could be the exception. Thus, there’s always the slight chance that you could end up being in the 0.01% minority group. Mother nature can sometimes prevail, whether you like it or not. [Read: What to expect at your first visit to a gynecologist]
Your job is to lower the chances as much as possible and be realistic about the possibility that you may become pregnant.
Before you try these birth control methods, you should discuss them with your OB-GYN. They will advise you on how to properly use each method, when to take it, where you can get it, etc.
If you want to know more about what to expect, here are the pros and cons of hormonal birth control. Your doctor will tell you about these, but it’s a good idea to go in prepared with questions or concerns you may have.
Pros of birth control pills
1. 99% chance of not getting pregnant. Yay!
2. More estrogen can mean clearer skin for some users.
3. Regulates your ovulation within a few months.
4. Some pills act as diuretics that can lessen your water retention.
5. Estrogen powers the female sex drive, thereby increasing your libido.
6. Lessens the intensity of menstrual cramps without the need for painkillers.
7. Decreased chances of ovarian cancer.
8. Reduced risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.
9. Reduces risk of ectopic pregnancy.
10. Reduces symptoms of endometriosis.
11. Reduces the chances of breast cancer.
12. Allows you to experience sex without barriers like condoms and desensitizing spermicides.
[Read: Newsflash – why women hate condoms just as much as men do]
13. Less expensive than a baby.
Cons of birth control pills
1. Does not protect against STDs and STIs.
2. Adverse drug and substance interactions when not taken as advised by the doctor.
3. Dangerous side effects include low blood pressure, osteoporosis, and many others. Ask your doctor about the risks.
4. Adverse interactions include breakouts like acne.
5. Increased chances of heart and blood vessel disease for women ages 35 and up.
6. Weight gain due to increased appetite when using ordinary birth control pills.
8. Breast tenderness.
10. Mood swings. Ugh.
11. Takes longer to return to a normal menstrual cycle when you decide to stop using it.
12. Increased chances of pregnancy when not taken diligently.
[Read: How to tell if you’re pregnant – early signs to keep an eye on]
13. More expensive than condoms and abstinence.
Why is it important to choose the right pill?
When you want to start using contraceptive pills, you must be aware of the risks. If you choose the wrong pill, you could end up pregnant or dangerously ill. Either way, your needs won’t be met and you’ll risk hurting your body in the process.
Aside from that, birth control pills can differ by dosage and content. There are two reasons for that. One is that some women can be sensitive to certain kinds of hormones. The other is because some women can’t be trusted to take their pills religiously.
What type of pills will be prescribed?
There are two kinds of contraceptive pills that doctors prescribe. One of those is the combination pill, it contains both estrogen and progestin. The other is called a minipill, which contains only one hormone: progestin.
These two are very different in terms of the mechanism of their function
The combination pill
The combination pill contains synthetic forms of estrogen and progestin and it works by preventing ovulation from occurring. This means that, while taking the pill, your ovaries will not release any eggs into your uterus.
The conventional combination pills usually come in a 28-day pack, 21 active and 7 inactive pills. Each 21-day pill gives you a dose of hormones, and you can take or skip the last 7 inactive pills. Regardless, you will have your mimicked period in the last 7 days. On the bright side, your bleeding is regulated under this method! [Read: A girl’s ultimate survival guide to period woes]
Combination pills are categorized into groups based on their dosage of estrogen and progestin: monophasic pills and multiphasic pills.
Monophasic pills have the same amount of hormones in each pill, while multiphasic pills have varied amounts of hormones in certain pills in the pack. Multiphasic pills include low-dose pills for women who are sensitive to hormones.
The extended-cycle pill is a less conventional type of pill pack that has a longer duration of active pills. Extended-cycle pills are usually dispensed in 13-week rotations, unlike the 1-month rotation of the monophasic and multiphasic pills. You have 84 days of active pills and 7 days of inactive pills.
Just like the other kinds, you can choose to take or not take the last weeks of inactive pills and still have your period. However, with this pill type, you would only have your mimicked period about once every three months.
The second type of birth control pill is the progestin-only pill, or the minipill. Like the combination pill, the minipill suppresses ovulation, thickens the cervical mucus, and thins the uterine lining. So, what’s the difference between these pills?
This pill is also given in a 28-day pack like the combination pill, but it does not include any inactive days. Alongside this, the minipill does not prevent ovulation as effectively as the combination pill because it does not have estrogen in its dosage.
However, the minipill is a great alternative for people who want to get on birth control pills but can’t take estrogen for health reasons. This pill is offered to people at risk of blood clots, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
This alternative is also ideal for women who breastfeed because estrogen lowers the amount of milk a lactating woman can produce. It can be taken by women breastfeeding, women less than one month postpartum, and women sensitive to the combination pills. [Read: Amazing benefits of having sex while you’re pregnant]
How do you know which birth control pill is right for you?
Birth control pills are regularly prescribed by doctors with specific instructions on when and how to take them.
If a woman decides to take a random set of pills on her own, her doctor cannot warn her about the possible side effects and complications, such as the risk of overdosing, the dangers of not taking it on time, and the long-term effects it can cause.
Your doctor can also help you choose the right pill by studying your medical history, menstrual cycles, and current hormone levels.
One of the biggest risks in taking contraceptive pills is the risk of hypertension and heart disease, which is why your doctor needs to make sure you aren’t at risk. If you are, they will help you find a pill that suits your medical needs.
Unfortunately, some women choose to bypass their check-ups and buy the pills their friends use. Even though most women take these pills without repercussions, some women end up with nasty side effects that could have been avoided, had they asked their doctor. [Read: Should you take it? 26 pros and cons of birth control pills]
Should you buy an expensive set of pills?
Birth control pills differ in a number of ways, but the most important thing you have to remember is that the price of the pill is not a definitive marker of its efficacy.
A certain birth control pill might be expensive for a number of reasons, but it is not necessarily because it is the most effective.
Contraceptive pills go through a rigorous approval phase at the Food and Drug Administration, so any pill that is sold in an FDA-approved pharmacy is suitable for each woman’s specific needs.
Any pill you buy is almost sure to work, especially if you follow the instructions to the letter.
In conclusion, the best pill for you is the pill that best fits your body’s chemical makeup. Both major and minor brands carry different kinds of pills, which means you are covered, as long as you have a pharmacy at your disposal.
Other kinds of birth control methods
Science has come a long way in helping women prevent unintended pregnancies, all of which come in the form of birth control. With information garnered from Planned Parenthood, here are the most popular options available on the market aside from the birth control pill.
An intrauterine device *IUD* is a small T-shaped device that is inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types for you to choose from, namely the copper type or the hormonal type.
IUDs work by affecting the way the sperm moves so that it cannot meet the egg. Similar to the pill, the hormonal IUD also thickens the cervical mucus, making it that much harder for the sperm to make its way to the egg.
Once the IUD is inserted, you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant for up to 12 years. This, of course, depends on your body and the type of IUD you opt for.
They are one of the least expensive and most convenient forms of birth control, and they are very effective in preventing pregnancy.
A medical professional has to insert the device for you. Some women have complained of side effects, such as spotting between periods, heavier periods, cramping, and mild pain when the IUD is initially inserted.
2. Male condoms
You have the choice between latex and polyurethane. Latex condoms are the most common to come across, cheaper, more flexible, and more lubricated. [Read: History of condoms & must-know facts to be a condom know-it-all in 5 minutes]
They work as a snug glove that goes over the penis, and they are one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
This form of birth control is cheap and widely available. They come in various sizes, styles, and flavors, making for a fun time between the sheets. Many are even lubricated with spermicide, making it more effective in preventing unintended pregnancies. [Read: Condom types and how they can improve your sex life]
However, there is also the risk of the condom tearing, or even worse, not bothering to put it on in the heat of the moment. We have all been there, so let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen.
3. Female condoms
You probably didn’t even know that they make condoms for women, eh? Well, they do, and they are really effective. The female condom is a pouch with flexible rings at each end and is inserted deep into the vagina just before intercourse.
The ring at the top holds the pouch in the vagina, and the ring at the other end stays outside the vaginal opening during intercourse. They collect semen and prevent sperm from entering the vagina.
Female condoms are safe and very easy to use. Many women even say that the external ring stimulates the clitoris during intercourse, making sex even more exciting than it usually is. [Read: Intense sex – 17 pleasurable secrets and moves to make love with real passion]
Plus, its effectiveness in staying in place isn’t determined by the man’s erection.
It has to be inserted and removed before and after intercourse. Some women have complained about it acting as a sheet that makes sex less sensitive. For some, it may cause irritation and discomfort.
Similar to a female condom, a diaphragm is an object that is inserted into the vagina to block the cervix.
Made out of silicone, it looks like a shallow cup, and one diaphragm can last for up to a couple of years. It is easy to procure and comes cheap.
It is simple to use and can be toted around in your purse, ready to be busted out for unexpected quickies. And if you plan on doing the deed, you can also plan ahead and insert it into your vagina beforehand. As it does not release any hormones, it won’t affect your natural system or your libido. [Read: High sex drive in women – 16 causes & signs of high libido and what to do]
However, it has to be inserted and removed before and after intercourse. Depending on the sexual position and how hard your partner thrusts, it may fall out of place and need to be readjusted. You also have to be sure that you insert it right and that your cervix is properly covered.
5. The patch
The patch looks like a little Band-Aid that you stick on your arm. It looks very much like a nicotine patch and in some ways, works the same way, but instead of nicotine, it releases estrogen and progestin hormones into your body.
They keep the eggs from leaving the ovaries and make the cervical mucus thicker. You have to place a patch on your skin once a week for three weeks running, then go patch-free for a week before repeating the cycle.
Like the pill, the patch causes some women to have shorter and lighter periods, little to no menstrual cramps, less PMS, and clearer skin. [Read: Is period sex worth it? Reasons you might want to pass]
But depending on how your body reacts to the hormones, you may experience some side effects such as dizziness, spotting in between periods, nausea, and worst of all, a drop in sexual desire.
6. The ring
As its name suggests, the ring is a small, flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina once a month. It lasts for three weeks before it is removed, and the woman goes ring-free for a week before a new one takes its place.
Like the pill and the patch, it releases estrogen and progestin hormones to make the cervical mucus thicker and to keep the eggs from leaving the ovaries.
As it is hormone-oriented, the ring helps lighten and shorten periods. It also lessens menstrual cramps and PMS and clears up acne.
However, you may experience some side effects such as dizziness, spotting in between periods, decreased sexual desire, nausea, increased vaginal discharge, and even infection. [Read: Baby-free reasons why you missed your period]
7. Hormone shots
This is perhaps one of the simplest forms of birth control that is offered to women. All it takes is a visit to the doctor every three months for a progestin hormone injection.
It works by keeping the eggs in the ovaries and making the cervical mucus thicker, thus making it harder for the sperm to get to the egg.
It is simple and very convenient. Not just that, but it is very long-lasting and effective. Still, it has its side effects like every other method.
Irregular bleeding is the most common side effect experienced by women, especially within the first year of its introduction into their system. Other side effects include depression, hair loss, migraines, and nausea.
A birth control implant is a small, flexible plastic rod that is placed in the arm under a woman’s skin. While it’s there, it releases progestin into your bloodstream, preventing pregnancies for up to three years before replacing it.
This type of birth control is a good option for women who aren’t able to regularly take pills or get injections, as it requires no upkeep until it needs to be changed.
Implants are 99% effective, easy to use, and can be reversed. How it regulates your period depends on each user’s body. In some cases, women experience shorter periods, regulated periods, irregular periods, lighter periods, and no periods.
They can be pricey at about $600 or more for an exam and the implant and $100 to have it removed. There is also no protection from STDs, so you will have to use a condom for that.
The sponge is a small doughnut-shaped foam device with an indentation in the middle. It’s made of polyurethane foam that is coated with spermicide, which kills sperm. You insert it into your vagina before sex to prevent sperm from getting into your uterus.
Its effectiveness is around 80%. You don’t need a prescription to buy this birth control method and it doesn’t have any hormones. However, some women may experience a reaction to the spermicide that is used in the sponge. [Read: Getting rid of sexual insecurity for a better sex life]
10. Emergency Contraceptive Pills *ECP*
Now, the emergency contraceptive pill is not a primary form of birth control – it is an emergency contraceptive. However, there are a few things that should be noted.
This form of contraception is more commonly known as the “morning-after pill,” but experts say that it is most effective when used directly after intercourse. In fact, the sooner the pill is taken within its 5-day period, the more effective it will be.
ECPs are not birth control pills because they do not actively prevent pregnancies, instead, they release hormones that work to delay ovulation. Alongside this, they do not end a pregnancy that has already been implanted.
Emergency contraceptives have a tricky effectiveness rate because their efficiency depends on the person taking them. Not only does it lose its ability to fight off ovulation the longer you wait to take it, but factors such as your weight, height, medications, and general health may make it not effective.
It is not intended for routine use like the birth control pill. In fact, it can fail even when used correctly. Its side effects vary from person to person, but commonly reported are dizziness, nausea, headache, breast tenderness, spotting, cramps, and almost always a delayed period.
Permanent methods of birth control
If you are done having kids or just don’t want any at all, then another option is some permanent birth control methods. They are available for both females and males. [Read: Arousing sex fantasies to try in real life]
1. Female Sterilization
Tubal ligation or “tying tubes” is surgery that is done to close a woman’s fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the uterus. When you undergo this procedure, you can no longer get pregnant.
Tubal ligation is done in a hospital or outpatient clinic. The surgeon usually gives you medication, so you will be asleep and unable to feel pain. But you also might get spinal anesthesia and be awake, but sleepy.
The surgery usually takes about 30 minutes. The surgeon makes 1 or 2 small cuts in your stomach around the belly button. Then, the tubes are either burned shut, clamped off with a small clip, or completely removed.
Tubal ligation can also be done right after you have a baby through a small cut in the navel. It can also be done during a C-section.
2. Male Sterilization
This is known as a vasectomy. It cuts the supply of sperm to a man’s semen, and it’s done by cutting and sealing the tubes that carry sperm. It has a low risk of problems and can usually be performed in an outpatient setting under local anesthesia.
Before getting a vasectomy, a man *and woman* should be sure that they don’t want any more children in the future. Although reversals are possible, it’s usually used as a permanent form of male birth control. [Read: Sex for the first time – 37 must-knows and secrets about losing your virginity]
A vasectomy is almost 100% effective. In rare cases, the tubes can rejoin. If that happens, then the woman can get pregnant.
One thing to be cautious about is that sperm can still get out for a little while right after the procedure. Because of that, the man should get a follow-up test that checks for sperm so that you know when he can stop using other forms of birth control.
Things to keep in mind regarding birth control
It is important that you get all the facts from a medical professional before making an informed decision. [Read: Can you have sex with a UTI? 29 must-know tips, signs, and things to look out for]
No amount of online research and trolling medical websites will be able to provide you with as much accurate information as your doctor. Be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before deciding which form of birth control to go with.
No matter which forms of birth control you opt for, keep in mind that they will only aid in preventing unintended pregnancies and that they will not shield you from sexually transmitted infections and other diseases like hepatitis and HIV.
Even condoms do not guarantee 100% protection, as even skin-on-skin contact may transmit STIs such as genital warts and HPV.
If possible, steer clear from one-night stands, get tested frequently, and as uncomfortable as it may be, ask your sexual partner to get tested as well.
[Read: Ways to subtly ask your partner to get tested]
Except for the best orgasm ever, nothing beats having peace of mind when having a romp between the sheets. So, make sure you’ve got one less thing to worry about when you’re having sex by keeping yourself informed of the birth control options available to you.