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In our post-Roe world, you can turn to friends and the internet to find out what your birth control options are. “Which birth control methods are right for me? Which is more effective?” And more recently, “Will I continue to have access to birth control?”
While some over-the-counter contraceptives, such as condoms, are always available, there is concern about access to other methods of contraception.
If you’re wondering if your birth control method is effective enough, here are some of the most (and least) successful ways to prevent pregnancy.
What is birth control?
Birth control prevents pregnancy from occurring. Contraceptives can come in many forms, such as the pill, injection, implant or vaginal ring, and some require medical procedures such as tubal ligation and vasectomy. The main goal of any birth control method is to prevent the sperm from contacting the egg.
Birth control is different from emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B, which help prevent an already fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus and stop ovulation. The abortion pill, which terminates pregnancy, is also not considered a birth control. Birth control is used before and during sex, and emergency contraceptives are used within 120 hours after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.
It should be noted that not all birth control means protect against sexually transmitted diseases. The only methods that can protect against STDs are male and female condoms. However, they can only protect you from diseases transmitted through bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact, but only where the skin is covered by the condom.
How to get birth control
Access to some non-hormonal birth control is quite easy. For example, condoms can be found almost everywhere: in pharmacies, gas stations or grocery stores. Spermicides are also sold in the same places.
However, hormonal birth control is more difficult to obtain. The pill, intrauterine device, or other hormonal birth control methods must be prescribed by a doctor, such as your gynecologist. Contact your health service, local health facility or university doctor to find out about your options.
Often, insurance will cover or reduce the cost of your visits and prescriptions.
What are the different types of birth control?
Here are some of the types of birth control available and the effectiveness of each birth control option.
The birth control pill contains two hormones – estrogen and progestin. You can find two types of pills, combination and progestin only. Combined pills contain estrogen and progestin. The pill is only available with a prescription and your doctor will prescribe the best pill for you based on your medical history and conditions.
The pill works by using hormones to stop ovulation (the release of an egg), thus preventing the sperm from connecting with the egg. The pill also thickens cervical mucus and makes it harder for sperm to reach the egg. This method requires daily pills to be taken at the same time every day for maximum effectiveness.
It was shot
The birth control shot, also known by the brand name Depo-Provera, is a hormonal injection. Each injection contains the hormone progestin, and the method requires injections every three months. You can get this contraceptive through your doctor.
The shot works similarly to other hormonal methods. Progestin prevents ovulation and thickens cervical mucus. Sperm has a hard time connecting with the egg.
A birth control implant (such as the Nexplanon brand) is placed under the skin of the upper arm. The thin, rod-like structure releases the hormone progestin into the body. It is effective for up to five years. Get an implant from your doctor.
Implants work like any other hormonal birth control method. Progestin prevents ovulation and thickens cervical mucus. The implant can be removed by a doctor before the end of five years.
An IUD is a small “T”-shaped device made of plastic that is inserted into the uterus. There are two types of IUDs: hormonal and copper. Hormonal IUDs (like Mirena and Kyleena) can last anywhere from three to seven years. A copper IUD (Paragard) can last up to 12 years, although 10 years is usually recommended. Get this contraceptive from your doctor or gynecologist.
The IUD works by stopping sperm from moving in search of an egg. Copper IUDs repel sperm, while hormonal IUDs release progestin. Both types of devices can also be used as emergency contraception if inserted within five days of unprotected sex.
The diaphragm looks like a menstrual cup. It is dome-shaped, bendable, often made of silicone, and inserted into the vagina. After getting a prescription from your doctor, you can buy a diaphragm at a pharmacy or pharmacy. You can visit a gynecologist to install the correct diaphragm and the doctor will demonstrate how to place it. To be most effective, your diaphragm should be replaced every two years and used with spermicide.
This device prevents pregnancy by covering the cervix and preventing sperm from entering it. The added spermicide also stops sperm from moving towards the egg.
A spermicide, often a gel or cream, is inserted into the vagina before intercourse. Chemicals in spermicide prevent sperm from moving enough to find an egg. A spermicide is more effective when combined with another method of birth control, such as the pill or an intrauterine device. You can find spermicides over-the-counter at most pharmacies or drugstores.
Always be sure to read the directions on the spermicide; some are meant not to be used with latex products (eg condoms).
Like the diaphragm, birth control sponges are inserted into the vagina just before intercourse. The small, round spongy part closes the cervix during intercourse. Unlike the diaphragm, the sponge already contains spermicide and you don’t need to see a doctor to get it.
The spermicide and the sponge prevent the sperm from reaching the uterus and connecting with the egg. It can be combined both with and without a condom. Once inserted, the sponge protects you for 24 hours. After that, it should be changed before having sex again.
Birth control vaginal ring is a small, flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina. Name brands of vaginal rings include NuvaRing and Annovera. A NuvaRing lasts about five weeks, and an Annovera ring lasts up to a year; remove every month during menstruation. See your doctor for a prescription.
Both brands work by releasing both estrogen and progestin hormones, which stop ovulation and cause an increase in cervical mucus. To be most effective, the new ring must be worn on time.
Similar to a diaphragm or birth control sponge, cervical caps are inserted into the vagina and cover the cervix. It does not come with spermicide, so it must be used with it to be more effective. You should leave the cervical cap inside the vagina for at least six hours after intercourse. After you get the prescription, you can find a cervical cap at the pharmacy. Your doctor will also fit you to the right size.
A spermicidal cervical cap prevents sperm from entering the cervix and thus the uterus. It can be reused after removal and proper washing.
The pull-out technique, or “pull-out,” is when a person pulls the penis out of the vagina a few minutes before ejaculation. This stops sperm from entering the vagina. However, this method is complicated. There is a risk of pregnancy if the timing is not correct or if fluid (which may contain sperm) enters the vagina before ejaculation. Also, if this method is not combined with a condom, it may not protect against STDs.
Withdrawal is most effective when combined with other methods such as condoms, vaginal rings, or the pill.
The birth control patch is attached to a part of your body (upper arm, back, or abdomen) and releases hormones into your body through the skin. The patch contains both estrogen and progestin hormones. Patches can only be prescribed to you by a doctor.
Both hormones work together to stop ovulation, increase cervical mucus, and make it harder for sperm to reach the egg. You will need to change the patch every week, but you won’t wear it during your period. Just like birth control pills, you need to take a new one every week at the same time.
Condoms are one of the most commonly used birth control methods. Male and female (internal) condoms are available, and both types of condoms prevent sperm from entering the vagina. Male condoms can be made of latex, plastic or animal skin, while internal condoms are latex-free.
Each condom can only be used once, but male and internal condoms are the only way to protect against STIs, although animal skin condoms are not.
For anyone with a uterus or ovaries, tubal ligation is a surgical method to permanently prevent pregnancy. A vasectomy is a surgical procedure for people who produce sperm. A tubal ligation prevents the fallopian tubes from releasing an egg, and a vasectomy prevents sperm from entering the semen.
Both procedures are permanent (but some vasectomies are reversible). But in rare cases, those who have these procedures can still get pregnant or someone can get pregnant.
Abstinence is the only way to completely prevent pregnancy.
Side effects of birth control
No birth control method is perfect, and each type has its own risks. Every body is different and may respond differently to birth control methods. Consult your doctor to determine the best birth control method for you.
Hormonal birth control
Because hormonal methods affect your hormones, side effects can range from mild and unnoticeable to severe. Although most of these hormonal methods are well tolerated, they can cause problems for some people that prevent them from using them.
For example, the use of hormonal birth control containing estrogen may increase the risk of stroke in people who experience migraine with aura. If this is the case for you, there are progestin-only options that do not increase the risk of stroke.
As always, you should consult a doctor before starting any of these methods. Side effects of hormonal birth control such as pills, IUDs, implants, needles, rings, or patches include:
- Blood clot
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- To gain weight
- The mood changes
- Irregular periods
Non-hormonal birth control
Side effects of using a condom, diaphragm, sponge, spermicide, copper IUD, cervical cap, or other non-hormonal methods include:
- Allergic reaction
- Toxic shock syndrome (rare but serious)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Longer and heavier periods with copper IUDs
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or health goals.