Since inserting (and then promptly removing) my IUD last summer, I have been dealing with finding the right birth control method. It hasn’t been the easiest time, but throughout the process I have learned quite a bit about what is available on the market.
If you enjoy having sex that has the physiological potential of making a baby, you need to plan what kind of birth control to use. There are a bunch of options out there – but it is all about finding the right one for you! They won’t all be perfect, but it is important to know what is available.
This is a very general guide that gives a hint about the methods but does not go into any detail about benefits, risks, side effects or efficacy rates. This guide is only mean to describe types of birth control. If one of them interests you, you need to do some more in-depth research and then talk to a doctor.
Abstinence has a variety of definitions. Some people believe that it means you cannot do anything sexual at all, while others believe that only vaginal intercourse is off-limits. The underlying idea is the same: you can’t get pregnant if you aren’t doing the thing that can get you pregnant.
2. Withdrawal / Pull-Out Method
This method sounds exactly like the name: you withdraw of pull-out the penis from the vagina prior to ejaculation. This method relies on the penis-owner having good control over their ejaculation and knowing their “point of no return.” You should not use this method until you have thoroughly researched it and understand how to do it safely. When using this method, make sure that any sperm is cleared from the urethra prior to intercourse (via urination).
3. Fertility Awareness
If you have a fairly regular menstrual cycle, you can keep track of your fertile window and avoid having PIV intercourse during that time period. By tracking your temperature and keeping detailed charts of your menstruation, you can avoid fertilization. If this method interests you, you can start by downloading an app to monitor your cycle then progress to more detailed charting. There are ovulation-specific thermometers and charts available online.
There are numerous hormonal methods, but the basic concept is the same: The hormones work by keeping eggs from leaving the ovaries and by making cervical mucus thicker to prevent sperm from reaching the eggs. All methods contain progesterone while some methods also contain estrogen. There are different amounts and types of these hormones so make sure you inform yourself of the details. Your doctor can also help you out with this.
Birth control pills can either contain one hormone (progestin) or two hormones (estrogen and progestin). You have to take the pill every day around the same time. [FYI: A trick is to set an alarm every day so you don’t forget!] Typically, you take it for three weeks in a row and then take placebo pills throughout your period. Some types allow you to only get your period 4 times a year.
The ring is a small, flexible material that you insert directly into your vagina once a month. It can be left in place for three weeks at a time and it releases hormones (progestin and estrogen). You then take a week break for your period.
The patch is a thin, beige, plastic sheet that sticks to the skin that releases hormones. You have to change it once a week. Similar to above, you use it three weeks in a row and then take a week break for your period.
IUDs are tiny devices that need to be inserted by a medical professional into the uterus. There are two types of IUDs: hormonal or copper. The hormonal ones release progestin to create the same hormonal effect as the other methods mentioned above. The copper ones create an environment that does not allow sperm to move so they cannot reach the egg. The different types have different side effects.
The shot is an injection of progestin into the body. Each shot is effective for three months at a time, which means that you need to visit your doctor/clinic every three months. You might know this method by its common name Depo-Provera.
The implant is a matchstick-sized rod that is implanted into the inside of your upper non-dominant arm. It releases progestin and lasts for three years.
Condoms are the only form of birth control for PIV intercourse that will also help prevent the transmission of STIs. There are two distinct types of condoms: the “male” one that goes onto a penis and the “female” one that is inserted into a vagina [yes, they need to stop naming them after binary genders]. They can be made out of a variety materials although latex has been the most popular. Thankfully non-latex condoms are gaining popularity.
(Note: while dental dams are not a birth control method, they should still be used for sexual activities to reduce STI transmission).
2. Cap or Diaphragm
Cervical caps and diaphragms are similar in concept but are made out of different materials and have slightly different instructions. Basically, they are both little cups that are inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix. They prevent pregnancy by preventing the sperm from physically joining the egg. They both must be used with spermicide cream, gel or jelly to stop the sperm from moving. Read the instructions to make sure you insert it well-enough in advance and that you leave it in the vagina for long-enough post-ejaculation for it to be effective.
The sponge is made of a plastic foam that already contains spermicide. It covers the cervix to physically block the sperm. It also releases spermicide to stop the sperm from moving. Read the instructions to know how long beforehand you need to insert it and how long you need to leave it inside for.
Spermicide contains chemicals that stop sperm from moving. It can be applied up to one hour before intercourse and must be reapplied before every single session. Using spermicide with other forms of birth control is more effective than using it alone. In fact, it is not suggested to be used alone.
1. Tubal Ligation
This is a procedure that is also known as “female sterilization.” This procedure closes or blocks the fallopian tubes. In order for pregnancy to occur, the egg needs to travel from the ovary to the uterus via the fallopian tubes. By blocking the tubes, the eggs can’t reach the uterus.
This is a procedure that is also known as “male sterilization.” This procedure blocks the vas deferens to keep sperm out of the seminal fluid. Sperm are made in the testicles and need to travel through the vas deferens tubes in order to be ejaculated. By blocking them, the sperm is absorbed by the body instead of being ejaculated.
If you’re looking to prevent pregnancy, then there are a variety of options. If one of these methods interests you, make sure to research the benefits, risks, side effects and efficacy rates. Doing your own research will allow for a more productive conversation with your doctor.
It is totally okay to try a method or two (or more) and realize they aren’t for you! If you notice side effects – trust your instincts. If you think something isn’t right for you, then it isn’t right for you – no one can decide something is or is not working for your body.
Remember that the only form of birth control that also reduces the risk of STI transmission are condoms.
Let me know if you have any questions — I am not a medical doctor so I cannot answer medical questions but I am happy to answer any practical questions about methods that I have tried.
Know that you aren’t alone in this birth control journey — there are always people to talk to!
The above information was modified from:
p.s. Can you guess which birth control methods are featured in the featured image?